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780.922    386m2 
Ken  of  music 


jUL'31  1913 


EE  21  1975 



COPYRIGHT  ©   1939,   1950,   1958  BY  SIMON  AND  SCHUSTER,  INC. 



NEW  YORK  20,  N.  Y. 



Lillian  Brockway  Simmons 

Edna  O.  Weinstock 

Introduction  to  the 
Revised  Edition 

Eleven  years  have  elapsed  since  we  finished  the  manuscript  of  Men  of 
Music,  and  in  those  years  the  book  has  run  through  eight  printings.  It 
was  one  of  the  end  products  of  many  years  of  an  all  but  uninterrupted 
conversation  about  arts  and  letters.  The  book  appeared,  and  the  con- 
versation went  on.,  particularly  about  music.  We  discussed  not  merely 
what  we  had  already  written  and  published,  but  also  what  might  have 
gone  into  it  had  it  been  the  ideal  book  we  had  always  wanted  to  write. 
We  took  into  account  both  criticisms  received  and  our  own  evolving 
opinions.  By  the  time  it  became  obvious  that  a  ninth  printing  was  de- 
manded, we  felt  that  Men  of  Music  needed  to  be  corrected  in  detail, 
brought  down  to  date,  and  enlarged.  This  Revised  Edition  is  the  result  of 
that  feeling. 

The  phrase  "corrected  in  detail"  needs  qualification.  We  did  not 
try  to  recast  the  entire  volume  to  fit  our  changed  (and  ever-changing} 
opinions  about  the  multifarious  data  that  had  passed  through  our  minds. 
Rather,  the  hundred  or  so  small  corrections  affected  chiefiy  minor  facts. 
Recently  unearthed  bits  of  information  were  occasionally  inserted.  Rarely 
did  we  alter  a  judgment — in  fact,  we  did  so  only  when  we  ourselves 
found  a  passage  we  could  not  read  without  blushing.  For  instance,  the 
curious  are  invited  to  compare  our  present  evaluation  of  the  Verdi  Requiem 
with  the  casual  dismissal  of  that  high  work  of  genius  in  the  First  Edition. 
On  the  other  hand,  in  the  matter  of  enunciating  points  of  view  that  many 
have  found  unpalatable  we  remain  unreconstructed. 

Bringing  Men  of  Music  down  to  date  was  a  much  easier  task  than 
we  might  have  envisaged  had  we  known,  eleven  years  ago,  that  we  would 
be  doing  it.  Of  the  twenty-one  composers  to  whom,  in  the  First  Edition, 
we  devoted  a  chapter  apiece,  two  of  the  three  who  were  living  then  are 
living  still.  Richard  Strauss,  whose  demise  many  years  earlier  would  have 
left  music  none  the  poorer,  died  in  1949.  Reports  of  a  new  symphony 
from  the  octogenarian  Jean  Sibelius  crop  up  constantly — as  they  did  a 
decade  ago.  And  we  still  wait  for  Igor  Stravinsky  to  equal  the  greatness 
of  his  early  years.  Sibelius  appears  to  have  created  little  or  nothing  since 



our  chapter  was  written.  Strauss  and  Stravinsky  have  been  busy,  and  their 
latest  activities  have  been  faithfully  recorded. 

Bringing  Men  of  Music  down  to  date  on  Strauss  and  Stravinsky  has 
lengthened  it,  but  an  added  chapter,  on  Hector  Berlioz,  is  a  more  con- 
siderable enlargement.  Hearing  more  and  more  of  his  music  through  the 
years  had  brought  us  inevitably  to  the  decision  that  he  belonged  among 
those  great  creators  portrayed  and  criticized  in  Men  of  Music.  We 
were,  even  in  our  First  Edition,  somewhat  reluctant  to  omit  him,  but 
our  excuse  at  that  time  was  perfectly  valid.  He  was,  eleven  years  ago, 
so  little  played  that  we  could  not,  without  dishonesty,  have  pretended  to 
judge  him.  Times  have  changed,  though  not  enough.  Unfortunately, 
several  of  Berlioz's  greatest  compositions  were  available  to  us  only  in 
recorded  excerpts  or  in  score.  But  it  is  a  good  sign  that  while  we  discussed 
>and  wrote  this  new  chapter  it  was  possible  to  hear  Berlioz's  music  (in- 
cluding an  uncut  performance  of  Romeo  et  Juliette)  on  the  radio  or 
play  it  on  the  gramophone. 

New  York 
February  22,  1950 


For  the  opinions  and  statements  in  this  book,  the  authors  are 
alone  responsible.  They  feel  indebted,  however,  to  numerous 
friends  and  well-wishers  for  invaluable  practical  assistance.  They 
wish  to  thank  Richard  L.  Simon  for  many  illuminating  sugges- 
tions. Margaret  Sloss,  who  read  the  manuscript  as  it  was  written, 
and  pulled  the  authors  back  from  the  brink  of  not  a  few  absurdi- 
ties, has  their  lasting  gratitude.  They  owe  much  to  the  stimulating 
editorial  comment  of  the  late  Henry  H.  Bellamann  and  Robert 
A.  Simon.  Ben  Meiselman  was  of  great  assistance  in  preparing 
the  index.  Finally,  Bart  Keith  Winer  undertook  the  job  of  read- 
ing complete  page  proofs  of  the  book,  and  at  the  last  moment 
removed  various  unintentionally  humorous  touches. 

For  the  revised  edition  Jacques  Barzun's  criticisms  of  the 
added  chapter  on  Berlioz  have  been  invaluable. 

Table  of  Contents 



Ancestors  of  Western  music.  Dunstable  and  the  English  polyphonists. 
The  Flemings.  Josquin  hints  for  preferment.  A  bad  influence.  Pales- 
trina  the  God-intoxicated.  Saves  music  from  decadence  and  extravagance. 
The  Improperia  and  the  Missa  Papae  MarcelH.  Wife  and  money 
troubles.  Di  Lasso,  dramatist  in  tone.  A  success  story.  Mixed  motives. 
Seven  penitential  psalms.  Victoria  the  devout.  Spanish  rhythms.  The 
climax  of  unaccompanied  vocal  polyphony  in  Palestrina,  Di  Lasso,  and 
Victoria.  Close  of  a  period. 


Bach's  fame.  A  musical  clan.  Childhood.  Foreign  influences.  Stubborn- 
ness. Life  in  Weimar.  Appearance.  An  epitomizer  of  forms.  A  duke's 
servant.  Cantatas.  The  greatest  organist.  Cothen.  The  Well-Tempered 
Clavichord.  The  "Brandenburg"  Concertos.  Leipzig.  The  Magnificat. 
The  St.  Matthew  Passion.  A  stickler  for  rights.  The  B  minor  Mass. 
More  cantatas.  Secular  compositions.  Bach's  sons.  Frederick  the  Great 
and  his  theme.  Musical  puzzles.  Blindness  and  death. 


A  child  prodigy.  Johann  Mattkeson.  Almira,  HandeVs  first  opera. 
Italy.  Domenico  Scarlatti.  Success.  Hanover  and  London.  Purcell,  Eng- 
land's greatest  composer.  George  I  and  a  false  legend.  The  Water  Music. 
Cliques  and  stage  battles.  Big  box  office.  Handel  clings  to  tradition. 
Esther,  the  first  English  oratorio.  Alexander's  Feast.  Misfortunes  and 
illness.  Handel  as  clavier  composer.  Failure  after  failure.  A  chain  of 
masterly  oratorios.  Messiah.  The  Firework  Music.  Twelve  thousand 
people  attend  a  rehearsal.  Blindness  and  death.  Handel  as  a  British  vice 
and  glory. 


The  Renaissance  produces  opera.  It  degenerates  in  France  and  Italy. 
Opera  as  a  social  gathering.  Gluck's  childhood.  He  writes  conventional 



successes.  Visits  Handel  in  London.  Marries  well.  Is  knighted  by  the 
Pope.  Reforms  ballet.  Meets  a  librettist  with  ideas.  Orfeo  ed  Euridice. 
Relapse.  Alceste.  The  importance  of  the  overture.  Iphigenie  en 
Aulide.  Marie  Antoinette  and  Sophie  Arnould.  Armide  and  a  famous 
feud.  Iphigenie  en  Tauride.  Reforms.  Failures.  Social  old  age. 
Entertains  the  Mozarts.  Disobeys  doctor's  orders. 


Parliament  pays  a  bill.  St.  Stephens  and  a  brutal  dismissal.  A  famous 
singing  teacher.  Karl  Philipp  Emanuel  Bach.  Haydn  marries  the  wrong 
wife.  The  Esterhdzys.  A  phlegmatic  genius.  Excellent  working  condi- 
tions. An  indiscretion.  Haydn  meets  Mozart.  And  loses  his  job.  Goes  to 
England.  Becomes  the  idol  of  London.  The  "Salomon"  Symphonies. 
Haydn  teaches  Beethoven.  As  a  symphonist.  Gott  erhalte  Franz  den 
Kaiser.  The  Creation.  Its  fading  luster.  The  Seasons.  Apotheosis 
and  death.  The  rediscovery  of  Haydn.  His  string  quartets.  His  lasting 


The  rococo.  Most  dazzling  of  child  prodigies.  Leopold  Mozart.  Maria 
Theresa.  Tours.  A  boy  writes  operas.  Finds  Salzburg  intolerable. 
Grows  up.  Violin  concertos.  Mannheim  and  the  Webers.  Back  to  im- 
prisonment in  Salzburg.  The  Archbishop  kicks  him  out.  He  marries. 
Die  Entfuhrung.  Gluck.  Poverty  and  extravagance.  Mozart  as  a 
piano  composer.  -  The  concertos.  Symphonies.  Freemasonry.  Plays 
quartets  with  Haydn.  Le  Nozze  di  Figaro.  Success  in  Prague.  Don 
Giovanni.  A  triumph.  Hints  of  the  coming  century.  The  three  master 
symphonies.  Die  Zauberflote.  A  mysterious  visitor  and  the  Requiem. 
Death.  Mozart' *s  overtowering  greatness  and  limitations. 


The  French  Revolution.  A  hero.  Childhood.  Helpful  friends.  Escape  to 
Vienna.  Beethoven* s  notebooks.  Noble  patrons.  Slow  development.  Early 
piano  sonatas.  The  First  Symphony.  The  nineteenth  century  opens.  The 
"Heiligenstadt"  Testament.  Physical  afflictions.  The  mystery  of  the 
"Immortal  Beloved."  Piano  concertos.  Napoleon  and  a  symphony.  More 
piano  sonatas.  Strange  career  of  Fidelia.  Its  overtures.  Beethoven  writes 
the  Fifth  Symphony.  The  Violin  Concerto.  M.  Lesueur  cannot  find  his 
head.  Overtures.  The  Seventh  Symphony.  Goethe.  Beethoven  as  puritan. 
Wellington's  Victory.  Apotheosis.  Last  piano  sonatas.  The  Missa 
solennis.  The  Ninth  Symphony.  Death.  The  string  quartets. 


vin.  CARL  MARIA  VON  WEBER  208 

Relation  to  Constance  Mozart.  Trouping  childhood.  Wild  oats.  Early 
operas.  Life  in  Prague.  Captures  Germany  with  patriotic  songs.  Der 
Freischutz,  the  fast  romantic  opera.  The  Conzertstiick  as  program 
music.  Spontini  stages  a  spectacle.  The  failure  of  Euryanthe.  Bee- 
thoven speaks.  Weber  learns  English.  Composes  Oberon.  Ill  treat- 
ment in  London.  Triumph  of  Oberon.  Dies  away  from  home. 


Wagner  visits  a  retired  dictator.  Childhood  in  eighteenth-century  Italy. 
Early  operas.  Writes  a  smash-hit  song.  An  impresario  and  his  mistress. 
The  Barber  of  Seville.  Rebellion  in  Naples.  Rossini  marries.  Advice 
from  Beethoven.  Semiramide.  The  siege  of  Paris.  Balzac  likes  Moise. 
High  finance.  William  Tell.  The  monarch  of  opera  abdicates.  Olympe 
Pelissier.  Stabat  Mater.  A  gay  old  age.  Death. 


Unconscious  tragedy.  Genius  and  intellect.  Mastersongs  and  doggerel. 
Limitations.  Poverty  and  adoring  friends.  Masterpieces  at  eighteen.  The 
"Schubertians."  The  "Forellen"  Quintet.  Schubert  fails  with  opera. 
Syphilis.  The  "Unfinished"  Symphony.  Tales  of  romance.  Composes  for 
piano.  The  song  cycles.  The  C  major  Symphony.  Sees  Beethoven.  Death 
and  a  monument. 


A  happy  life.  The  wonder  child.  A  Midsummer  Night's  Dream.  The 
rediscovery  of  Bach.  Mendelssohn  conquers  England.  Fingal's  Gave. 
Writes  tJie  "Italian"  Symphony.  Renovates  Dusseldorf.  Leipzig ,  the 
Gewandhaus,  and  Robert  Schumann.  St.  Paul.  Mendelssohn  listens 
to  Rossini.  A  romantic  marriage.  The  King  of  Prussia  is  difficult.  The 
"Scotch"  Symphony.  Again  A  Midsummer  Night's  Dream.  The 
Violin  Concerto.  Elijah.  Queen  Victoria.  Death.  Mendelssohn  re- 

xii.  ROBERT  SCHUMANN  292 

Heredity  and  romanticism.  Studies  law.  Quarrels  with  Friedrich  Wieck. 
Papillons.  Romance  and  obstacles.  Founds  a  journal.  The  Davids- 
bundler.  Carnaval.  Arrival  of  Mendelssohn.  Wieck  is  obdurate.  Schu- 
mann visits  Vienna.  Finds  Beethoven's  pen  and  a  Schubert  symphony. 


Marries  Clara.  Fantasies tiicke  and  Kreisleriana.  The  great  songs. 
Flaws  as  a  symphonist.  Fails  as  a  pedagogue.  Signs  of  mental  decay. 
Genoveva.  The  Piano  Concerto.  Tragedy  and  death.  Schumann's 


Fame  and  self-limitation.  Childhood  in  Poland.  Weltschmerz.  Paris 
in  the  1830*5.  Noble  patrons.  Valses.  Liszt  and  polonaises.  Another 
Polish  dance.  Pedagogy.  Etudes.  Mendelssohn's  criticism.  Chopin's 
failure  as  a  pianist.  Liaison  and  romance.  Nocturnes.  Scherzos.  George 
Sand.  Hell  in  Majorca.  A  vigorous  corpse.  Preludes.  Four  mad  chil- 
dren. The  masterly  Fantaisie.  Break  with  George  Sand.  Doting 
women.  Purgatory  in  England.  Death  from  consumption. 

xiv.  HECTOR  BERLIOZ  338 

Retarded  recognition.  A  country  childhood.  Assaults  on  the  Prix  de  Rome. 
An  idee  fixe.  A  marvelous  Opus  i.  The  Symphonic  fantastique. 
Sojourn  in  Italy.  Marriage.  A  spot  of  Byronism.  The  mighty  Requiem. 
Cellini  and  Shakespeare.  Funeral  weeds.  Wanderjahre.  Faust 
damned.  Setbacks.  Visits  to  London.  L'Enfance  du  Christ.  A 
mammoth  opera.  More  Shakespeare.  A  classical  romantic.  Problems  and 

xv.  FRANZ  LISZT  374 

A  figure  of  legend.  The  master  virtuoso.  Early  amours.  Chopin  and 
Paganini.  Love  and  Mme  d'Agoult.  Swiss  interlude.  Liszt  conquers 
Thalberg.  Triumphal  tours.  Creates  the  piano  recital.  Lola  Montez  et 
al.  Liszt's  children.  Weimar  and  the  Princess.  He  renounces  the  world. 
Becomes  an  international  celebrity.  A  fine  conductor.  Enthusiasm  for 
Wagner.  Almost  marries.  Becomes  an  abbe  instead.  A  vie  trifurqu6e. 
Ten  thousand  pupils.  Death.  An  estimate. 

xvi.  RICHARD  WAGNER  395 

Social  position  of  composers.  Biography  as  detective  story.  Admiration 
for  Weber.  Wagner  writes  a  bloodcurdling  libretto.  Composes  two 
operas.  Begins  to  attract  creditors.  Marries  Minna.  Das  Liebesverbot 
finishes  an  opera  company.  Riga  and  machinations.  Flight  by  sea.  Begin- 
nings of  Der  fliegende  Hollander.  Rienzi  and  success.  The  Leit- 
motiv. Composes  Tannhauser,  which  is  tepidly  received.  Quarrels  with 
Minna.  More  creditors.  Writes  the  Lohengrin  libretto.  Toys  with 
revolution.  Exiled.  Fails  to  conquer  Paris.  More  love  affairs.  Lohengrin 
fails.  The  Ring  librettos.  Wagner  leads  musical  life  of  Zurich. 


Pamphleteering.  Mathilde  Wesendonck  and  the  AsyL  Enter  Cosima 
von  Billow.  The  Ring  progresses.  Tristan.  The  Paris  Tannhauser 
fiasco.  More  wanderings.  A  fairy  prince.  Revolution  in  Munich.  Wagner 
composes  Die  Meistersinger.  Marries  Cosima.  Completes  the  Ring. 
Builds  the  Festspielhaus*  The  fast  Ring.  Parsifal.  The  Wagner 

xvii.  GIUSEPPE  VERDI  445 

Verdi  the  patriot.  Early  years.  Marriage.  First  opera  a  success.  Death  of 
wife  and  children.  Triumph  of  Nabucodnosor.  Troubles  with  the 
censors.  The  Villa  San?  Agata.  Giuseppina  Strepponi.  Rigoletto.  II 
Trovatore.  Camille  and  La  Traviata.  Failure  and  fiasco.  Verdi 
becomes  a  war  cry.  Marries  Giuseppina.  Enters  parliament.  St.  Peters* 
burg  and  La  Forza  del  destine.  The  Khedive  wants  an  opera.  Aida. 
The  Requiem.  Thirteen  yeans  of  silence.  Arrigo  Bdito.  Two  Shake- 
spearean masterpieces.  Dawn  of  the  twentieth  century. 

xvin.  JOHANNES  BRAHMS   ,   ,  469 

"The  three  B's."  Brahms  speaks.  Childhood  in  the  slums.  Potboilers. 
Joseph  Joachim.  The  Schumanns.  New  Paths.  Schumann  dies.  Brahms 
and  Clara.  Brahms'  psychology.  A  court  musician.  The  First  Piano 
Concerto.  Re-creates  the  variation  form.  Moves  to  Vienna.  As  chamber 
composer.  Brahms  and  romance.  Ein  deutsches  Requiem.  Waltzes 
and  Hungarian  dances.  Elisabeth  von  Herzogenberg.  The  Franco- 
Prussian  War.  The  "Haydn"  Variations.  Brahms  as  lieder  composer. 
Four  symphonies.  Visits  Italy.  The  Violin  Concerto.  A  degree  and  the 
Akademische  Festouverture.  A  famous  beard.  Von  Billow.  Brahms 
meets  Tchaikovsky.  The  "Double"  Concerto.  The  last  piano  pieces. 


A  neurotic  child.  A  petty  official.  Studies  music.  The  Rubinsteins. 
Moscow.  Tchaikovsky  writes  a  symphony.  The  affaire  Desiree  Artot. 
The  Five.  Romeo  and  Juliet.  The  First  Piano  Concerto.  Von  Billow 
plays  in  Boston.  Bizet  vs  Wagner.  Nadejda  von  Meek  and  Antonina 
Miliukova.  Tchaikovsky  marries.  Grim  tragedy.  Ballets.  The  Fourth 
Symphony.  Eugen  Oniegin.  Italy.  The  Violin  Concerto.  World  fame. 
The  Fifth  Symphony.  Pique-Dame.  Break  with  Nadejda.  Tchaikovsky 
visits  the  United  States.  The  Nutcracker.  The  "Pathetique."  Cholera. 


"Musicien  frangais."  Paris  and  tradition.  Childhood.  The  Conserva- 
toire. Visits  to  Moscow.  L'Enfant  prodigue.  Composes  songs.  The 


Prix  de  Rome.  A  Wagnerian.  La  Damoiselle  elue.  Russian  and 
Javanese  music.  Green-eyed  Gaby.  L5Apres-midi.  The  String  Quartet. 
The  fast  Debussyans.  Pierre  Louys.  More  songs.  First  marriage.  Noc- 
turnes. "M.  Croc  he."  Maeterlinck,  Mary  Garden,  and  Georgette 
Leblanc.  The  leitmotiv  and  Pelleas.  Second  marriage.  Piano  composi- 
tions. La  Mer.  Concert  tours.  Chouchou.  Le  Martyre  de  Saint- 
Sebastien.  D'Annunzio.  Images.  Preludes,  The  World  War. 
Etudes.  Death. 

xxi.  RICHARD  STRAUSS  556 

Decline  of  a  giant.  Prodigious  youth.  Von  Billow.  Early  works.  Don 
Juan.  Influence  of  Wagner.  Tod  und  Verklarung.  As  conductor  and 
discoverer.  Egypt  and  an  opera.  As  lieder  composer.  Marriage.  Till 
Eulenspiegel.  Also  sprach  Zarathustra.  A  touch  of  megalomania. 
Don  Quixote.  A  monument  to  bad  taste.  Berlin,  Nikisch,  and 
Wilhelm  II.  Feuersnot  and  the  critics.  What  is  the  Sinfonia  Domes- 
tica?  Salome.  Elektra.  Strauss  visits  the  United  States.  Der  Rosen- 
kavalier.  Ariadne  auf  Naxos.  Decline  and  fall.  A  Na&?  A  lesson 
from  Rossini. 

xxii.  JEAN  SIBELIUS  574 

False  picture  of  Finland.  Ancestry  and  boyhood.  Law  and  music  in 
Helsingfors.  Germany  and  education.  En  Saga.  Marriage.  Epic  in- 
spiration. The  Swan  of  Tuonela.  A  government  grant.  The  First 
Symphony  and  Tchaikovsky.  A  patriotic  gesture.  The  Second  Symphony 
and  the  Violin  Concerto.  Moves  to  Jdrvenp'd'd.  The  Third  Symphony. 
Miscellanea.  Pohjola's  Daughter.  Illness.  Voces  intimae.  The 
controversial  Fourth.  Sibelius  visits  the  United  States.  The  First  World 
War.  The  Fifth  Symphony.  Revolution  and  a  siege.  Under  fire.  The 
Sixth  Symphony  and  the  Seventh.  Sibelius  at  seventy-four;  at  eighty. 

xxin.  IGOR  STRAVINSKY  594 

Russian  composers  and  academies.  Rimksy-Korsakov.  Two  short  orches- 
tral pieces  win  Diaghilev.  L'Oiseau  de  feu.  Petrouchka.  Piano 
compositions.  Nijinsky  and  Le  Sacre  du  printemps.  A  riot  in  the 
Champs-Ely  sees.  Neoclassicism.  Le  Rossignol.  Experiments.  Les 
Noces  and  catharsis.  Devitalization.  Oedipus  Rex.  Jean  Cocteau. 
The  Symphonic'  de  psaumes.  A  genius  of  emptiness.  Music  for 
Ringling  Brothers  and  Billy  Rose.  The  later  symphonies.  Orpheus  and 
an  opera  in  English.  The  future  of  music. 

INDEX  613 


Dull-Useful  Information 
for  Conscientious  Readers 

Titles  of  compositions  are  given  in  their  original  form  except 
where  common  usage  forces  the  English  translation.  Thus,  we 
speak  of  The  Well-Tempered  Clavichord,  not  Das  Wohltemperirte 
Clavier;  of  La  Traviata,  not  The  Strayed  One. 

The  word  clavier  is  used  throughout  for  all  immediate  ancestors 
of  the  piano.  The  authors  found  that  discriminating  narrowly  be- 
tween clavicembalo,  clavichord,  clavier,  harpsichord,  and  spinet 
would  involve  discussions  of  timbre  and  mechanism  not  within 
the  scope  of  this  book. 

Chapter  I 

There  Were  Great  Men 
Before  Bach 

THE  fierce,  blinding  sun  of  the  high  Renaissance  was  beating 
down  on  papal  Rome  when  Giovanni  Pierluigi  da  Palestrina, 
the  greatest  of  the  old  composers,  was  writing  Masses  for  worldly 
and  splendor-loving  pontiffs.  Around  him  flowed  the  variegated 
life  of  sixteenth-century  Italy,  given  its  pattern,  texture,  and  color 
by  this  phenomenal  upsurge  of  human  ambition.  Everywhere 
artists  were  celebrating  the  victory  of  the  senses:  sculptors  were  ex- 
ploring with  rediscovered  candor  the  contours  of  the  human  body; 
painters  were  transforming  their  peasant  mistresses  into  the 
Mother  of  God;  architects  were  masking  the  harsh  Gothic  face  of 
the  cities  with  gracious  temples  and  colonnades,  and  philosophers 
were  dreaming  of  Plato,  that  prince  of  pagan  poets  whom  a  blas- 
phemous humanist  had  actually  proposed  for  sainthood.  In  the 
midst  of  all  these  busy  sensualists  ostensibly  re-creating  the  classic 
past,  but  in  reality  creating  the  modern  world,  Palestrina  was 
patiently  putting  the  finishing  touches  to  the  Gothic  edifice  of 
medieval  music. 

By  Palestrina' s  time  music  was  an  exceedingly  complicated 
affair.  Like  every  other  art,  it  had  developed  slowly  and  painfully 
from  meager  beginnings.  From  the  ritual  grunts  of  savages  it  had 
evolved  with  geologic  slowness  into  an  adjunct  of  the  Greek  drama. 
Whether,  if  we  knew  how  to  perform  it,  Greek  music  would  appeal 
to  us  or  not  we  can  never  know,  for,  as  a  wise  English  critic  has 
said,  "All  the  research  in  the  world  will  not  enable  us  to  under- 
stand the  Greek  musician's  mind." 

From  a  strictly  pragmatic  point  of  view,  music  blossoms  at  that 
moment  in  the  fourth  century  when  Ambrose,  Bishop  of  Milan, 
decided  to  regulate  the  singing  for  the  services  in  his  diocese.  The 
Ambrosian  chant — the  first  thoroughly  recognizable  ancestor  of 
music  as  we  hear  it — is  the  leanest  and  most  solemn  adaptation  of 
the  Greek  modes,  the  ancestors  of  our  modern  scales.  This  somber 
singing  can  still  be  heard  in  certain  Milanese  churches,  but  today 
we  are  more  familiar  with  the  elaboration  of  St.  Ambrose's  system 


4  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

known  as  the  Gregorian  chant,  which  largely  superseded  the 
older  musical  service  at  about  the  beginning  of  the  seventh  cen- 
tury. Some  think  that  St.  Gregory,  the  greatest  Pope  of  the  early 
Middle  Ages,  sponsored,  or  even  devised,  the  innovation;  less 
romantic  historians  believe  that  he  was  too  busy  with  barbarians, 
heretics,  and  plague  to  bother  with  ideas  about  music. 

For  a  thousand  years  the  music  of  the  Church  was  rigidly 
melodic:  that  is,  it  attained  its  ends  without  the  use  of  harmony  as 
we  conceive  it  today.  The  troubadours  and  minnesingers  accepted 
unquestioningly  this  purely  horizontal  tradition  of  music,  and 
lavished  their  imagination  on  the  melody  and  words.  But  neither 
these  gay  itinerant  musicians  nor  the  formulators  of  primitive 
counterpoint  (whoever  they  were)  can  be  called  real  composers. 

The  Renaissance,  which  exploited  the  individual  ego,  gave  birth 
to  the  composer  with  a  name.  Until  then  men  had  been  content  to 
submerge  their  names  in  anonymous  giving  of  their  talents:  the 
musician  was  as  nameless  as  the  altar  boy  swinging  the  censer.  In 
the  Middle  Ages  music  had  no  separate  identity:  it  was  as  much  an 
accessory  of  the  sacred  rite  as  Greek  music  was  of  the  drama. 
Definitely,  purposely,  a  part  of  some  greater  whole,  it  was  designed 
to  recede.  It  is  no  coincidence  that  the  first  pieces  of  self-sufficient 
music  are  (with  few  exceptions)  not  anonymous:  they  were  still 
written  for  the  Church,  but  the  composer  had  begun  to  think  of 
his  music  as  a  living  thing  he  had  created. 

Considering  the  exalted  and  ancient  lineage  of  the  other  arts, 
it  comes  as  a  shock  to  find  that  the  first  composer,  in  the  modern 
sense  of  the  word,  was  an  Englishman  who  died  in  1453.  This  man, 
John  Dunstable,  is  an  almost  mythical  figure,  a  sort  of  English 
Orpheus  who  was  even  credited  with  the  invention  of  counter- 
point— a  feat  obviously  beyond  the  abilities  of  a  single  individual. 
Also,  for  no  apparent  reason,  he  has  been  confused  with  St. 
Dunstan,  an  Archbishop  of  Canterbury  who  had  died  more  than 
four  centuries  before.  Add  that  he  was  even  confused  with  another 
English  composer  of  his  time,  and  was  reputedly  astrologer  and 
mathematician,  and  this  sums  up  what  is  known  of  the  man  who 
was  probably  Geoffrey  Chaucer's  most  gifted  artistic  contem- 
porary. Little  of  Dunstable's  music  survives,  and  he  might  have 
vanished  from  history  altogether  if  it  had  not  been  for  his  long 
and  fruitful  association  with  Continental  musicians  of  his  age, 


whose    successors — especially    the    Flemish    masters — evidently 
studied  his  methods  to  great  advantage. 

Dunstable's  suave  and  euphonious  style  tended  temporarily  to 
soften  the  harsh  contours  of  the  music  of  the  Flemings.  But  Jean  de 
Okeghem  reverted  to  the  austerity  of  earlier  Flemish  music,  while 
vastly  increasing  its  technical  resources.  Okeghem  has  been  called 
the  greatest  music  teacher  of  all  time,  and  in  his  relentless  pursuit 
of  a  new  methodology  has  been  likened  to  the  modern  experi- 
mentalist, Arnold  Schonberg.  This  is  by  no  means  a  forced  com- 
parison, for  the  purely  esthetic  results  of  their  efforts  are,  in  both 
cases,  open  to  question. 

Like  many  another  outstanding  theoretician,  Okeghem  was  ful- 
filled in  the  work  of  his  pupils,  the  greatest  of  whom  was  Josquin 
Des  Pres.  Coming  upon  Josquin  after  mingling  with  his  still 
shadowy  predecessors  is  like  emerging  suddenly  into  the  light  of 
day:  he  is  recognizably  a  modern  man,  an  erratic  genius  whose 
checkered  career  extended  well  into  the  sixteenth  century.  He  was 
born  in  the  dawn  of  a  new  age,  when  the  Turks  swarming  into 
Constantinople  and  Gutenberg  devising  the  printing  press  helped 
to  liberate  forces  that  would  destroy  the  Middle  Ages.  Josquin 
emerges  from  the  mists  as  a  singer  at  Milan  in  1474.  He  was  then 
about  thirty  years  old,  and  it  seems  probable  that  his  sophistica- 
tion was  already  such  that  even  the  excessive  splendor  of  the  court 
of  the  Sforzas  could  not  overawe  him.  For  he  was  no  stranger  to 
court  life,  as  he  himself  testifies:  he  had  studied  under  Okeghem  at 
the  royal  chapel  of  Louis  XI.  As  he  left  the  then  cheerless  city  of 
Paris  with  a  whole  skin,  we  may  be  sure  that  he  did  not  make  the 
sour  French  monarch  the  butt  of  those  practical  jokes  for  which  he 
later  became  notorious. 

Within  the  next  decade  or  so,  Josquin  made  a  leisurely  progress 
through  the  burgeoning  duchies  of  northern  Italy,  where  beauty- 
loving  and  neurasthenic  princes  welcomed  good  musicians  with  the 
extravagant  warmth  of  those  lush  and  expansive  times.  He  finally 
arrived  at  Rome,  which  was  for  two  hundred  years  to  be  the  center 
of  the  musical  world,  and  became  a  singer  in  the  papal  chapel, 
thus  choosing  a  road  to  fame  that  became  stereotyped  with  his 
successors.  Perhaps  the  choristers  in  the  Pope's  service  lived  aloof 
from  the  dissolute  life  of  Renaissance  Rome,  but  if  they  came  much 
into  contact  with  that  grand  old  rake,  Innocent  VIII,  or  his  even 

D  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

more  riotous  successor,  Alexander  VI,  they  must  have  witnessed 
some  of  the  most  colorful  and  improper  scenes  in  the  history  of 
even  the  Eternal  City.  Here,  despite  the  obvious  distractions  of 
Borgian  Rome,  Josquin  worked  on  his  first  book  of  Masses — prob- 
ably some  of  them  were  sung  in  the  Sistine  Chapel  with  the  com- 
poser himself  taking  part. 

Louis  XI  had  died,  Charles  VIII  had  climaxed  a  humiliating 
career  by  mortally  bumping  his  head,  and  that  brilliant  match- 
maker, Louis  XII,  was  firmly  seated  on  the  French  throne  before 
Josquin  wandered  back  to  Paris  to  seek  preferment.  At  first  he  had 
to  live  on  glory  and  promises:  his  first  book  of  Masses,  published  in 
1502,*  was  received  with  great  acclaim,  and  though  Louis  XII 
began  to  hint  cheerfully  about  church  benefices,  these  failed  to 
materialize.  Josquin  was  no  respecter  of  the  person  of  the  Most 
Christian  King,  and  dared  to  jog  his  memory.  Being  commissioned 
to  compose  a  motet  for  performance  in  the  King's  presence,  he 
chose  two  telling  phrases  from  the  Psalm  cxix — "Let  Thy  words  to 
Thy  servant  be  remembered"  and  "My  portion  is  not  in  the  land  of 
the  living" — for  his  contrapuntal  embroidery.  He  received  a  bene- 

Josquin  died  in  1521.  Later  composers,  exploiting  even  further 
the  devices  he  had  used  and  the  styles  he  had  vivified,  crowded  his 
music  out  of  the  churches  with  motets  and  Masses  of  their  own. 
For  almost  four  hundred  years  Josquin  has  been  hardly  more  than 
a  name.  Yet  the  most  painstaking  musicologists,  after  piecing  to- 
gether the  pitifully  sparse  details  of  his  life,  round  out  their  labors 
by  unanimously  acclaiming  him  a  genius.  Although  rarely  per- 
formed, a  sufficiently  large  amount  of  his  music  survives  for  us  to 
visualize  him  three-dimensionally  as  a  composer.  He  widened  the 
scope  of  musical  art  unbelievably:  he  advanced  and  subtilized  the 
technical  resources  of  his  predecessors;  more  important  still,  he 
discovered  that  music  can  be  made  the  vehicle  of  varying  human 
emotions.  Even  the  most  baroque  of  Josquin5  s  works,  though  full 
of  higher-mathematical  intricacies,  are  nevertheless  expressive-— 
the  music  of  a  man  who  felt  deeply  and  made  spacious  melodies. 
What  sets  him  above  the  earlier  masters — and,  indeed,  above  most 

*  Although  the  first  printed  music  antedates  this  by  a  quarter  of  a  century,  Jos- 
quin was  the  earliest  composer  to  have  a  complete  printed  volume  of  his  music 


composers — is  precisely  this  richly  varied  expressiveness.  His 
music  possessed  a  powerful  appeal  for  his  contemporaries.,  who  in- 
variably referred  to  him  as  "the  wonderful"  or  "the  marvelous" 
Josquin.  Luther,  a  good  judge  of  music,  and  himself  a  composer 
of  sorts,  said,  probably  of  Josquin's  less  intricate  style  (for  this 
downright  reformer  had  little  use  for  musical  monkeyshines),  that 
others  were  mastered  by  notes  while  Josquin  did  what  he  pleased 
with  them. 

Josquin's  effect  on  music  was  not  wholly  salutary:  his  associates 
and  followers — particularly  the  Flemings — admired  him  most  as  a 
superb  craftsman,  and  tended  to  forget  the  more  purely  musical 
excellences  of  his  style.  Uncritically  digesting  his  technique,  they 
then  began  at  the  point  beyond  which  prudence  and  taste  had  pre- 
vented Josquin  from  venturing,  and  went  on  to  create  monstrous 
complexities,  at  which,  finally,  the  Pope  himself  began  to  shudder. 

For  almost  two  hundred  years  the  Holy  See  had  been  vaguely 
disturbed  by  the  growing  elaborations  and  often  glaring  inap- 
propriateness  of  the  music  for  the  services.  The  complaints  were 
numerous:  secular  tunes  and  even  words  were  used;  different  sets  of 
words  were  sung  simultaneously,  and  at  times  the  style  was  so 
florid  that  the  words,  lost  in  the  mazes  of  ornamentation,  were 
completely  incomprehensible.  Imagine  a  solemn  High  Mass  sung 
to  the  tune  of  Oh!  Susanna,  with  the  tenors  crooning  Kiss  Me  Again 
and  the  basses  growling  Asleep  in  the  Deepl  This  is  the  sort  of  thing 
we  might  still  hear  if  an  affronted  and  conscientious  Pope  had  not 
moved  to  reform  these  evils. 

Reform  was  in  the  air.  The  Council  of  Trent,  originally  con- 
vened to  checkmate  Luther's  criticisms  by  a  general  house  cleaning, 
was  reconvened  in  1562  by  Pius  IV,  after  a  recess  of  ten  years. 
Among  what  they  doubtless  considered  far  weightier  matters,  the 
fathers  of  the  conclave  found  the  degraded  state  of  church  music 
worthy  of  their  august  consideration.  Therefore,  with  the  Pope's 
emphatic  approval,  two  cardinals*  were  appointed  in  1564  to  see 
that  sacred  music  was  once  more  made  sacred.  At  first  the  situa- 
tion seemed  so  hopeless  that  there  was  talk  of  restricting  the 

*  One  of  them  was  Carlo  Borromeo,  the  greathearted  Archbishop  of  Milan.  A 
nephew  of  Pius  IV,  he  almost  justified  the  institution  of  papal  nepotism  by  those 
noble  deeds  that  led  to  his  being  sainted,  twenty-five  years  after  his  death  in  1584, 
by  Paul  V. 

8  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

musical  services  to  the  traditional  body  ofplainsong.  It  is  possible 
that  this  deadening  remedy  had  already  been  seriously  considered 
when  a  man  was  found  who  could  evolve  an  idiom  both  artistically 
mature  and  ecclesiastically  acceptable. 

Giovanni  Pierluigi  da  Palestrina,  the  man  who  saved  the  art 
of  music,  was  thirty-nine  years  old  at  this  time.  Like  the  magnifi- 
cent Leonardo,  he  had  taken  as  his  own  the  name  of  his  native 
village,  where  he  was  born  in  either  1525  or  1526.  Palestrina  is, 
and  doubtless  was,  a  drowsy  and  picturesque  little  town  nestling 
in  the  craggy  fastnesses  of  the  Sabine  Mountains.  The  composer's 
parents  were  people  of  substance  in  this  obscure  place,  holding 
their  land  in  fee  of  the  powerful  Colonna  family.  It  is  probable  that 
one  of  the  Colonnas  took  notice  of  the  child,  and  persuaded  his 
parents  to  let  him  enter  the  papal  service.  At  any  rate,  we  know 
that  as  early  as  his  twelfth  year  Palestrina  was  living  in  Rome,  and 
serving  as  a  choirboy  in  the  basilican  church  of  Santa  Maria 

After  seven  years  in  Rome  Palestrina  returned  to  his  native  town 
with  a  life  appointment  as  organist  and  choirmaster  of  the  ca- 
thedral, offices  carrying  the  revenues  of  a  canonry.  His  fortunes 
were  on  the  upgrade.  Three  years  later,  his  marriage  to  a  local 
heiress  diverted  a  fat  dowry  his  way.  Shortly  afterwards,  Giovanni 
Maria  del  Monte,  Cardinal  Bishop  of  Palestrina,  became  Pope  as 
Julius  III — an  event  of  prime  importance  in  the  ascending  se- 
quence of  Palestrina5 s  fortunes.  Almost  immediately  the  new  Pope 
appointed  his  organist  choirmaster  of  the  Julian  Chapel,  the 
nursery  for  future  Sistine  singers.  Palestrina  dedicated  his  first 
book  of  Masses  to  the  Pope,  who  responded  by  giving  him  a  life 
appointment  as  a  singer  in  the  papal  chapel,  thus  enabling  him  to 
give  up  his  exacting  duties  at  the  Julian. 

In  March,  1555,  Julius  III  died,  and  the  next  month  Cardinal 
Cervino  was  elected  to  succeed  him,  assuming  the  curiously 
archaic  name  of  Marcellus  II.  Unfortunate  in  life — he  had  enjoyed 
the  papacy  but  three  weeks  when  he  died,  probably  poisoned — he 
was  singularly  fortunate  in  his  post-mortem  fame,  for  Palestrina's 
greatest  Mass  was  named  for  him.  Giovanni  Pietro  Caraffa  fol- 
lowed the  luckless  Marcellus,  and  as  Paul  IV  connected  himself 
inextricably  with  the  most  exquisite  refinements  of  the  Inquisition, 


to  which,  as  a  Neapolitan,  he  was  peculiarly  fitted  to  lend  his  in- 
ventive genius.  One  of  his  first  acts  was  to  rescind  Palestrina's 
"life"  appointment  in  the  Sistine:  the  morbidly  devout  pontiff 
could  not  brook  the  idea  of  a  married  man  singing  in  the  Vatican. 

Palestrina  interpreted  his  dismissal  as  a  personal  slight  (though 
two  other  married  members  of  the  choir  were  let  out  at  the  same 
time)  5  and  his  health  suffered.  The  niggardly  pension  that  Paul 
assigned  him  could  scarcely  compensate  for  his  loss  of  prestige, 
though  his  injured  feelings  were  somewhat  assuaged  by  his  ap- 
pointment to  succeed  the  renowned  Di  Lasso  as  musical  director  of 
St.  John  Lateran,  "of  all  churches  in  the  world  the  mother  and 
head.55  However,  this  position  seemed  to  be  better  than  it  actually 
was:  the  music  was  not  well  endowed,  and  Palestrina  was  con- 
stantly at  loggerheads  with  his  employers,  who  do  not  seem  to  have 
appreciated  him.  This  impossible  situation  was  terminated  by  his 
resignation  in  1560,  possibly  with  the  intention  of  devoting  him- 
self exclusively  to  composing.  Sorely  disturbed  though  he  was  by 
the  undignified  bickering  at  the  Lateran,  he  yet  composed,  in 
the  Improperia  for  the  Good  Friday  service,  the  work  that  raised 
him  to  a  pre-eminence  that  went  almost  unchallenged  until  his 

The  Improperia  brought  Palestrina  so  much  acclaim  that  he  was 
besieged  simultaneously  by  requests  for  more  compositions  and 
by  appeals  to  re-enter  the  service  of  the  Church.  The  compositions 
were  forthcoming  in  profusion,  but  he  hesitated  to  return  to 
masters  who  had  treated  him  so  ambiguously.  After  eight  months 
of  unemployment,  however,  he  consented  to  return  to  Santa  Maria 
Maggiore,  to  lead  the  choir  in  which  he  had  sung  as  a  child. 
Here  he  remained  for  six  years. 

The  fanatical  Paul  IV  died  in  1559,  and  there  ascended  the 
throne  of  St.  Peter  one  of  the  most  amiable  figures  of  the  late 
Renaissance,  Giovanni  Angelo  des  Medici.  This  cultured  and  en- 
lightened philosopher,  known  as  Pius  IV,  was  evidently  deeply  im- 
pressed by  Palestrina's  music,  for  he  requested  that  the  Improperia 
be  copied  into  the  manuscript  books  of  the  Sistine  Chapel.  It  is 
possible  that  the  simplicity  and  genuine  piety  of  these  Good 
Friday  pieces  led  the  Pope's  commissioners  to  turn  to  Palestrina  in 
solving  the  crisis  created  by  the  ultimatum  of  the  Council  of 

IO  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

Trent.  But  it  is  impossible  to  verify  the  old  tale  that  it  was  the 
Missa  Papae  Marcelli  that  won  them  over. 

This  Mass,  the  most  famous  piece  of  Renaissance  music,  is  as 
shrouded  in  legends  and  conflicting  traditions  as  the  Mono,  Lisa. 
Among  a  welter  of  data  there  are  many  absurdities  and  few  au- 
thenticated facts.  The  most  preposterous  story  attributes  the 
composition  to  Pope  Marcellus  I,  a  thoroughly  unmusical  gentle- 
man who  was  martyred  early  in  the  fourth  century.  It  seems  like- 
lier that  Palestrina  composed  it  in  1562,  and  submitted  it  to 
Cardinal  Borromeo  and  his  associate  two  years  later.  Even  the 
date  and  place  of  the  first  performance  are  not  known  with  cer- 
tainty: some  say  Santa  Maria  Maggiore  heard  it  first;  others 
favor  a  private  audition  at  the  palace  of  one  of  the  commis- 
sioners, followed  by  a  performance  at  the  Sistine,  in  the  presence 
of  the  Pope  himself,  on  June  19,  1565. 

We  are  on  firm  ground,  however,  in  regard  to  the  ultimate  re- 
ception accorded  this  great  masterpiece,  for  here  the  question 
refers  not  to  a  contradiction  in  data,  but  to  the  inherent  grandeur 
of  a  peak  in  art  comparable  to  the  Sistine  frescoes.  If  Pius  IV  did 
not  really  say  that  the  Missa  Papae  Marcelli  was  comparable  to  the 
music  heard  by  St.  John  the  Divine  during  his  vision  of  the  New 
Jerusalem,  he  should  have  said  it.  After  all,  it  is  merely  a  florid 
Renaissance  way  of  saying  exactly  what  critics  have  been  saying 
ever  since.  But  the  making  of  heavenly  melodies  was  not  very 
profitable,  and  Palestrina  welcomed  the  largess  of  wealthy  clerics 
and  noblemen. 

In  1565,  Palestrina's  friend  Pius  IV  died;  he  was  succeeded  the 
following  year  by  the  cantankerous  Inquisitor  General,  Michele 
Ghislieri,  who  assumed  the  name  of  Pius  V.  This  thoroughly 
morose  monk  (the  last  sainted  pope)  reappointed  Palestrina  to  the 
Julian  Chapel  in  1571,  this  time  as  choirmaster.  Meanwhile,  the 
composer's  creative  genius  was  at  flood:  Masses,  motets,  and  sacred 
madrigals  flowed  from  his  pen  unceasingly,  and  apparently  with- 
out effort.  Two  of  the  madrigals  commemorated  the  signal  vic- 
tory of  the  allied  Venetian,  Spanish,  and  papal  navies  over  the 
Turks  at  Lepanto. 

Palestrina's  sobriety  of  character  must  have  made  him  welcome 
in  the  more  serious  ecclesiastical  circles  of  the  time.  His  intimacy 
with  Filippo  Neri,  the  founder  of  the  Order  of  Oratorians,  dates 

THERE    WERE    GREAT    MEN    BEFORE    BACH         II 

from  the  year  1571,  when  the  future  saint*  is  said  to  have  invited 
him  to  conduct  the  musical  services  at  Neri's  own  church.  These 
services  came  to  be  known  as  oratorios  because  they  were  per- 
formed in  an  oratory:  the  term  "oratorio"  was  not  applied  to  a 
particular  form  of  music  until  1600.  Neri,  who  seems  to  have  been 
free  of  the  more  forbidding  qualities  usually  connected  with  saints, 
became  the  composer's  lifelong  friend. 

Despite  Palestrina's  many  friends  among  the  powerful  and  holy 
of  the  Renaissance — a  list  of  his  dedications  reads  like  a  sixteenth- 
century  Almanack  de  Gotha — his  life  was  cheerless  and  pinched.  His 
wife  and  two  musically  promising  sons  died  within  a  few  years  of 
each  other,  and  he  was  left  with  one  rascally  boy  who  not  only 
plagued  him  during  his  life,  but  also,  as  his  father's  musical  exec- 
utor, damaged  his  musical  reputation  after  his  death.  His  second 
marriage,  at  the  age  of  fifty-six,  could  not  well  have  been  a  ro- 
mantically happy  one:  he  needed  money  and  someone  to  preside 
over  his  household.  The  woman  of  his  choice  was  a  widow  in  com- 
fortable circumstances,  and  presumably  in  need  of  the  same 
human  companionship  that  Palestrina  craved.  He  took  over  a  fur- 
and-hide  business  she  had  inherited  from  her  first  husband,  and 
made  a  decided  go  of  it,  buying  much  valuable  real  estate  with 
his  profits. 

The  last  seventeen  years  of  Palestrina's  life  were  marked  only  by 
domestic  vicissitudes;  officially,  through  his  honored  connections 
with  the  Vatican,  he  had  achieved  the  utmost  distinction  the 
Renaissance  had  to  offer  a  musician.  Others  might  be  better  re- 
warded, but  the  fact  remained  that  Palestrina's  offices  gave  him 
the  tacit  dictatorship  of  the  musical  world.  Only  a  technical  ques- 
tion of  seniority  of  service  kept  him  from  the  position  of  master  of 
the  papal  choir.  He  issued  his  works  with  almost  calendar  regu- 
larity, though  not  in  the  sumptuous  format  that  distinguished  the 
publications  of  certain  of  his  contemporaries  who  enjoyed  the 
patronage  of  a  mere  king  or  duke — the  Popes  were  not  so  munifi- 
cent to  their  musicians  as  to  their  painters  and  sculptors. 

Palestrina  was  not  one  of  the  most  prolific  composers:  he  left 
only  ninety-three  Masses,  five  hundred  motets,  four  books  of 
madrigals,  hymns,  and  offertories  for  the  whole  Church  year,  three 

*  Palestrina  numbered  at  least  three  saints  among  his  acquaintance — Carlo  Bor* 
romeo,  Pius  V,  and  Filippo  Neri. 

12  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

books  of  Magnificats,  three  of  litanies,  three  of  lamentations,  and 
two  of  sacred  madrigals — a  mere  trifle  compared  to  the  incredible 
output  of  his  well-kept  contemporary,  Orlando  di  Lasso.  But  the 
percentage  of  excellence  is  amazingly  high:  Palestrina  seldom  fell 
below  his  own  standards,  which  were  uncompromising.  Occasion- 
ally a  composition  written  to  order  did  not  please  the  great  per- 
sonage for  whom  it  was  intended.  When  the  learned  builder-Pope, 
Sixtus  V,  heard  the  Mass  Tu  es  pastor  ovium,  he  remarked  dryly 
that  Palestrina  seemed  to  have  forgotten  the  Missa  Papae  Marcelli. 
But  even  this  hypercritical  pontiff  was  won  over  by  Assumpta  est 
Maria,  as  well  he  might  be,  for  it  is  barely,  if  at  all,  inferior  to  the 
Marcellan  Mass. 

Sir  Donald  Tovey  has  pointed  out  that  Palestrina,  like  Spinoza, 
was  a  God-intoxicated  man.  His  secular  compositions  are  negli- 
gible in  number,  but  in  his  Church  music  he  did  not  invariably 
follow  the  letter  of  the  regulations  laid  down  by  the  Council  of 
Trent.  He  frequently  used  secular  tunes  for  sacred  texts:  for  in- 
stance, he  used  the  folk  melody  UHomme  arme  as  the  basis  for  two 
Masses.  He  set  another  Mass  to  the  tune  of  a  French  love  song. 
However,  his  intense  devotional  fervor  so  spiritualized  these  lay 
melodies  that  all  trace  of  their  vulgar  origin  was  removed. 

Palestrina  gave  music  a  new  kind  of  beauty  based  on  an  under- 
standing of  integral  structure.  His  predecessors,  even  the  greatest 
of  them,  had  been  content  to  solve  specific  technical  problems 
without  conceiving  them  in  relation  to  the  total  effect.  Some  of 
them  had  given  beautiful  and  expressive  melody  to  each  voice, 
and  had  ingeniously  carried  these  single  threads  through  a  com- 
plicated labyrinth,  producing  a  rich  fabric  of  sound.  But  in  their 
single-minded  pursuit  of  correct  horizontal  development  of  the 
separate  voices,  they  failed  to  relate  them  vertically  in  such  a  way 
as  to  produce  harmonically  beautiful  chords.  We  have  no  evi- 
dence that  the  ugly  discords  of  the  great  Flemings  were  intentional. 

In  the  rather  barren  controversies  that  rage  perennially  over  the 
comparative  worth  of  various  compositions  by  a  single  master,  and 
which  are  particularly  unprofitable  in  the  case  of  a  composer  so 
rarely  performed  as  Palestrina,  the  vote  is  always  divided.  The 
Missa  Papae  Marcelli  is  by  no  means  unchallenged  in  its  pre-emi- 
nence: at  least  three  other  Masses  compete  for  highest  place. 
Assumpta  est  Maria^  for  instance,  has  been  compared  (with  com- 

THERE    WERE    GREAT    MEN    BEFORE    BACH         13 

plimentary  intent)  to  the  Sistine  Madonna.  But  now  that  the  re- 
cording companies  and  the  radio  have  thrown  their  enormous 
weight  on  the  side  of  the  Marcellan  Mass,  it  seems  destined  to  hold 
its  place  in  popular  estimation  as  the  greatest  composition  before 
Bach.  Nowadays,  when  the  link  with  Palestrina  is  becoming  ever 
more  tenuous,  it  is  increasingly  difficult  to  enjoy  him  fully  without 
the  act  of  faith  that  is  the  very  essence  of  the  creed  he  illuminates. 
For  Palestrina  is,  above  all  else,  other  worldly,  and  therefore,  to 
the  vast  majority  of  our  contemporaries,  he  must  necessarily  seem 
remote;  by  the  same  token,  his  esthetic  is  as  difficult  to  enter  into 
as  that  which  reared  a  Buddhist  stupa  or  fashioned  a  T'ang  vase. 
The  Missa  Papae  Marcelli  sums  up,  in  a  way  that  only  an  expert  can 
appreciate,  but  everyone  can  feel,  what  was  best  in  the  music  of 
the  time.  If  you  are  not  conditioned  to  be  moved  by  its  applica- 
bility as  part  of  revealed  truth,  you  can  at  least  savor  it  as  the  voice 
of  a  particular  moment  in  history — that  frozen,  baffling  eternity 
known  as  the  Middle  Ages. 

In  the  dedication  to  Gregory  XIII  of  his  fourth  book  of  Masses, 
Palestrina  shows  a  lively  sense  of  his  own  gifts  as  a  composer.  His 
contemporaries  already  regarded  him  as  one  of  the  fountainheads 
of  music.  One  of  them,  the  Spaniard  Victoria,  so  admired  him 
that  he  not  only  imitated  the  Italian  master's  musical  style,  but  is 
said  to  have  copied  his  somber  clothes  and  the  cut  of  his  beard. 
In  1592,  a  group  of  accomplished  north-Italian  composers  pre- 
sented a  collection  of  vesper  psalms  to  Palestrina,  with  a  dedica- 
tion that  reflects  the  reverence  in  which  he  was  held  during  the 
last  years  of  his  life.  Its  language  is  extravagant,  and  would  be 
fulsome  if  addressed  to  any  lesser  personage:  "As  rivers  are  natu- 
rally borne  to  the  sea  as  their  common  parent  and  lord,  and  rest  in 
its  bosom  as  the  attainment  of  their  own  perfection,  so  all  who  pro- 
fess the  art  of  music  desire  to  approach  thee  as  the  ocean  of  musical 
knowledge  to  testify  their  homage  and  veneration." 

During  his  last  years,  his  responsibilities  somewhat  lightened, 
Palestrina  continued,  as  was  his  oft-expressed  intention,  to  create 
music  for  the  greater  glory  of  God.  Old  age  did  not  stem  his  cre- 
ativeness,  and  he  was  preparing  his  seventh  book  of  Masses  for 
publication  when  he  died,  on  February  2,  1594.  His  intimate 
friendship  with  Filippo  Neri  lends  plausibility  to  a  legend  that  he 
died  in  the  saint's  arms. 

14  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Palestrina  was  buried  in  the  old  basilica  of  St.  Peter's,  but  his 
tomb  was  moved  during  the  demolition  of  the  church,  and  no 
longer  exists.  Records  preserve  the  epitaph,  its  Latin  sonorousness 
aptly  saluting  the  greatness  of  his  achievements: 


With  the  Missa  Papae  Marcelli  there  began  the  last  phase  of 
purely  vocal  contrapuntal  development,  enriched  by  later  works  of 
the  Prince  of  Music  himself  and  his  most  eminent  contemporaries 
— Orlando  di  Lasso  and  Tom^s  Luis  de  Victoria.  Di  Lasso  worked 
mainly  in  Germany,  and  therefore  fell  little  under  the  influence  of 
Palestrina:  a  native  of  Flanders,  he  summed  up  the  accomplish- 
ments of  the  Flemish  school.  Victoria,  however,  spent  much  time  in 
Rome,  and  consciously  modeled  his  compositions  after  the  great 
Italian's.  During  the  last  third  of  the  sixteenth  century,  when  all 
three  of  these  men  were  prodigally  pouring  forth  a  flood  of  master- 
pieces, they  divided  the  domain  of  music  among  them.  Although 
they  cannot  be  considered  rivals,  they  offer  endless  material  for 
comparison  and  contrast.  Palestrina  was  a  lyric  tone  poet  of  the 
lineage  of  Raphael  and  Mozart;  Di  Lasso  was  a  dramatist  in  tone, 
related  to  Michelangelo  and  Bach;  Victoria,  finally,  was  a  sort  of 
Spanish  Palestrina,  but  endowed  with  the  passion  and  mystical 
tenderness  of  his  countrymen. 

Of  this  peerless  constellation,  Di  Lasso  had  the  most  eventful 
life.  His  was  the  first  really  big  success  story  in  music.  Noble 
patrons  competed  for  the  honor  of  employing  him:  he  started  out 
as  the  favorite  of  a  Gonzaga,  and  ended  up  at  the  court  of  Munich 
in  the  softest  musical  berth  in  Europe.  The  pomp  and  glitter  of  his 
life  is  rather  like  Leonardo's.  He  spent  his  vacations  running 
pleasant  diplomatic  errands  for  his  powerful  patrons.  Everything 
conspired  to  produce  for  him  those  ideal  circumstances  for  which 
every  composer  yearns. 

Orlando  was  born  at  Mons,  in  what  is  now  Belgium,  about  1530. 
Even  at  the  age  of  nine  he  had  progressed  so  far  musically,  and  had 
so  angelic  a  voice,  that  he  was  thrice  abducted,  the  third  time  by 
agents  of  Ferdinand  Gonzaga,  Viceroy  of  Sicily.  His  lifelong 
habit  of  consorting  with  noblemen  was  formed  early,  and  after  his 

THERE    WERE     GREAT    MEN    BEFORE    BACH         15 

voice  broke  he  spent  several  years  fancying  the  high  society  of 
Naples  and  Rome. 

Orlando's  bent  was,  from  the  first,  secular.  Unlike  Palestrina, 
who  passed  his  entire  life  in  the  papal  service,  Orlando  held  only 
one  brief  church  appointment,  and  that  early  in  his  life:  the  direc- 
tion of  the  choir  at  St.  John  Lateran.  He  left  this  post  to  resume  his 
wanderings  with  a  highborn  friend,  and  may  even  have  reached 
England  before  settling  temporarily  at  Antwerp  in  1555.  In  that 
year  he  brought  out  his  first  two  publications,  a  book  of  madrigals^ 
mostly  on  verses  by  Petrarch,  and  a  collection  of  madrigals,  chan- 
sons, and  villanelle,  with  four  motets  trailing  after.  These  juvenilia, 
which  are  characterized  by  bold  chromatic  devices,  annoyed  Dr. 
Charles  Burney,  the  foremost  English  music  critic  of  the  eighteenth 
century,  into  calling  Orlando  "a  dwarf  on  stilts"  as  compared  with 

Orlando  cannily  dedicated  his  first  book  of  motets  to  the  future 
Cardinal  de  Granvella,  and  that  rising  statesman  promptly 
recommended  him  to  the  attention  of  Albert  V,  Duke  of  Bavaria. 
It  was  at  the  brilliant  court  of  the  Wittelsbachs,  at  Munich,  that 
Orlando  passed  most  of  his  life.  At  first  only  a  court  singer  (he  had 
to  learn  German  before  assuming  heavier  responsibilities),  he  al- 
ready drew  a  larger  salary  than  the  Kapellmeister.  He  married  a  rich 
Bavarian  girl.  Within  an  amazingly  short  time  after  his  arrival  in 
Munich  he  himself  was  Kapellmeister  and  one  of  the  Duke's  most 
trusted  ambassadors.  And  in  1570  the  Emperor  Maximilian  II 
ennobled  him. 

Orlando's  fame  soon  spread  throughout  Europe,  and  he  was 
received  with  great  enthusiasm  wherever  he  went.  Even  though  he 
enjoyed  incomparable  working  conditions  at  Munich,  it  is  difficult 
to  understand  how  he  found  time  to  produce  the  stupendous  body, 
of  his  music.  One  year  he  was  in  Venice  finding  singers  for  the 
ducal  chapel,  another  year  in  Paris  hobnobbing  with  Charles  IX, 
himself  an  amateur  musician;  another  time  he  journeyed  to  Fer- 
rara  to  present  Alfonso  II  with  a  book  of  madrigals.  The  Italian 
ruler  received  him  coldly,  and  to  save  the  artistic  credit  of  an  Este 
the  Florentine  ambassador  intervened  in  Orlando's  behalf.  A 
slight  to  this  composer  was  an  international  incident. 

An  exuberant  love  of  fun  endeared  Orlando  to  a  Paris  ruled 
by  Valois  and  Medici.  The  judicious  Abbe  de  Brantdme  spoke  of 

l6  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

some  music  he  had  written  at  Catherine  de'  Medici's  order  as  the 
most  melodious  he  had  ever  heard,  while  Charles  IX's  admiration 
became  so  intense  that  he  offered  to  engage  Orlando  as  a  chamber 
musician  at  a  fabulous  salary.  He  declined  the  honor,  but  con- 
tinued on  such  friendly  terms  with  the  royal  family  that  Henri  III, 
the  last  of  the  Valois,  gave  him  a  pension  and  special  privileges  for 
publishing  his  music  in  France. 

The  truth  is  that  Orlando  needed  no  favors  from  foreign  poten- 
tates. His  salary  at  Munich  was  more  than  lavish,  and  the  condi- 
tions under  which  he  worked  literally  have  no  parallel.  His  job 
was  simple:  to  write  as  much  as  he  wished  in  whatever  style  he 
chose.  The  only  thing  the  Duke  asked  for  himself  was  to  be  on 
hand  when  Orlando's  works  were  performed.  The  many  musicians 
who  thronged  the  court  of  Albert  V  were  at  Orlando's  beck  and 
call:  in  the  realm  of  music  he  was  as  absolute  as  the  Duke  was  in 
affairs  of  state.  If  Orlando  wrote  a  Mass,  he  could  order  its  im- 
mediate performance  in  the  ducal  chapel;  if  he  wrote  a  madrigal, 
the  chances  were  that  it  would  be  sung  at  a  court  gathering  the 
same  evening.  Here  the  ideal  circumstances  of  demand  and  im- 
mediate performance  were  realized  as  they  never  have  been  since. 

While  fortune  kept  her  fixed  smile  turned  on  Orlando,  he  con- 
tinued to  issue  Masses,  Magnificats,  Deutsche  Lieder,  and  chansons 
in  bewildering  abundance.  Albert  V  died  in  1579,  and  his  son, 
Orlando's  close  friend,  succeeded  him  as  William  V.  Albert's 
lavishness  left  the  treasury  depleted,  but  Orlando  did  not  suffer — 
on  the  contrary,  his  salary  was  doubled  within  the  next  few  years. 
Meanwhile,  the  Jesuits  got  at  the  Duke,  and  their  influence  slowly 
seeped  into  the  court,  blotting  out  the  old  gay  life,  and  making 
William  so  unpleasant  that  history  has  nicknamed  him  the  Pious. 
Orlando,  as  a  clever  courtier,  must  have  responded  to  this  re- 
vivalism, and  yet  in  1581  his  villanelle  are  still  overflowing  with 
the  very  essence  of  comic  drama — hold,  indeed,  the  germs  of 
opera  boujfe.  The  Duke's  bigotry  seemingly  imposed  few  restrictions 
on  Orlando,  and  more  than  ever  he  wrote  magnificently,  with 
subtlety,  expressiveness,  freedom,  and  boundless  audacity. 

In  1584,  the  annual  procession  of  the  Sacrament  through  the 
streets  of  Munich  on  Corpus  Christi  was  threatened  by  a  thunder- 
storm. For  some  moments — the  whole  incident  reads  like  a  fine 
page  from  South  Wind — it  seemed  that  the  ceremony  would  have  to 

THERE    WERE    GREAT    MEN    BEFORE    BACH         IJ 

be  held  indoors.  The  Sacrament  was  carried  to  the  porch  of  the 
Peterskirche,  and  the  choir  began  to  intone  Orlando's  motet 
Gustate  et  videte.  Suddenly  the  storm  abated,  the  sun  shone  brightly. 
On  the  theory  that  this  meteorological  miracle  had  been  brought 
aboul  by  the  music,  this  same  motet  was  thereafter  sung  during 
outdoor  processions  as  a  deterrent  to  storms. 

The  last  decade  of  Orlando's  life  was  marked  by  a  growing 
sobriety  of  attitude.  His  fifth  took  of  madrigals,  published  in  1585, 
revealed  this  change.  Like  some  of  his  earlier  efforts  in  this  genre, 
they  were  settings  of  Petrardi,  but  the  overdone  chromaticism  of 
the  early  pages  now  gave  wa.y  to  a  purer  diatonic  style.  It  was  as 
though  he  was  censuring  himself  for  his  youthful  extravagances, 
and  subjecting  his  gifts  to  more  rigorous  discipline.  But  the 
strength  of  strength's  prodigy  began  to  fail,  and  1586  passed 
ominously  without  a  publication.  The  Duke  noticed  Orlando's 
failing  health,  and  presented  him  with  a  country  house  to  which 
he  might  retire  from  the  strenuous  ritual  of  court  life. 

Baseless  fears  for  the  future  of  his  family  were  sapping  the  com- 
poser's vitality.  His  mind  became  increasingly  disturbed — he 
seems  to  have  suffered  attacks  of  real  insanity.  At  times,  he  refused 
to  speak  to  anyone,  and  was  unable  to  recognize  his  wife.  The 
court  physician  treated  him,  and  temporary  recovery  followed. 
But  he  brooded  constantly  on  death,  and  spoke  so  bitterly  that  the 
patient  Duke  became  enraged,  and  was  calmed  only  by  the  inter- 
cession of  Orlando's  faithful  wife.  His  blackest  humors  passed  as 
unreasonably  as  they  had  come,  and  he  was  able  for  a  time  in  1594 
to  resume  his  duties  at  court. 

On  May  24,  Orlando  dedicated  his  Lagrime  di  San  Pietro  to 
Clement  VIII.  It  was  his  swan,  song,  and  before  its  publication  he 
died,  on  June  14,  1594,  little  more  than  five  months  after  his  peer 

Orlando  is  one  of  the  most  difficult  composers  to  analyze:  not 
only  did  he  write  almost  two  thousand  works,  but  he  wrote  them 
in  a  bewildering  multiplicity  of  styles.  If  he  were  performed  as 
often  as  Wagner,  it  would  take  many  months  of  ceaseless  listening 
merely  to  hear  all  of  him;  as  it  is,  he  is  performed  even  less  than 
Palestrina.  His  works  range  from  ribald,  actually  bawdy  chansons 
(which  blushing  editors  permit  us  to  see  only  in  bowdlerized 
versions)  to  some  of  the  most  sublime  devotional  music  ever 

l8  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

written.  Between  these  extremes  are  pieces  expressing  every  subtle 
shade  of  emotion.  The  large  number  of  compositions  that  lie  at  the 
opposite  poles  of  this  gamut  suggests  a  manic-depressive  per- 
sonality at  work,  and  there  are  passages  in  Orlando's  life  itself 
that  give  color  to  this  hypothesis.  It  remains  unexplained  why  this 
exuberant  wisecracker  and  punster,  whose  letters  to  Duke  Albert 
are  full  of  excessive  high  spirits,  ended  his  life  of  unrelieved  good 
fortune  as  a  near-insane  melancholic.  Needless  to  say,  this  emo- 
tional seesawing  does  not  detract  from  the  greatness  of  his  music. 
In  surveying  the  vast  and  elevated  domain  carved  out  by 
Orlando's  genius,,  critics  have  espied  few  of  those  isolated  peaks 
that  crown  the  Palestrinian  landscape.  The  altitude  is  consistently 
very  high,  but  the  slopes  are  gentle;  there  is  no  Missa  Papae  Mar- 
cellij  no  Assumpta  est  Maria.  There  is,  nevertheless,  general  agree- 
ment that  Orlando's  setting  of  the  seven  penitential  psalms  is  his 
greatest  single  work.  In  the  musical  language  of  God-directed  con- 
trition and  sorrow,  Orlando  has  .never  been  excelled  by  anyone, 
has  been  equaled,  perhaps,  only  by  the  Bach  of  the  St.  Matthew 
Passion.  In  these  poignant  lamentations,  all  earthiness  and  ribaldry 
have  been  burned  out  by  searing  emotion,  and  what  remains  is  the 
very  distillation  of  sublimity. 

Tomas  Luis  de  Victoria  is  the  third  of  this  great  trio  of  six- 
teenth-century religious  composers.  He  was  born  at  Avila,  prob- 
ably about  1540.  As  the  birthplace  of  St  Teresa— she  may  have 
known  Victoria  personally,  for  she  mentions  his  brother  Agustm  in 
one  of  her  books — Avila  calls  to  mind  the  inextricable  mingling  of 
music  and  religiosity  in  late  Renaissance  Spain.  Mystical  and 
ascetic,  sensual  .and  ecstatic,  St.  Teresa  fills  a  unique  niche  in 
hagiology,  and  resembles  closely  but  two  other  figures  in  history; 
El  Greco  and  Victoria.  The  latter,  though  influenced  by  Pales- 
trina,  never  lost  the  dark^  intensely  Spanish  quality  that  some  find 
repellent,  others  magnificent.  The  mixture  of  spiritual  ecstasy 
and  lasciviousness  in  his  compositions  has  often  reduced  the  sacred- 
music  experts  to  a -state  of  silent  embarrassment.  Critics  have  been 
similarly  tongue-tied  before  certain  of  El  Greco's  canvases. 

Unlike  most  of  his  contemporaries,  Victoria  never  had  to  free 
himself  from  the  bonds  of  Flemish  pedantry,  with  its  endless 
•elaborations  and  frequently  empty  scrollwork:  from  the  beginning 

THERE    WERE     GREAT    ME3ST    BEFORE    BACH         IQ 

he  used  a  simple  and  expressive  style.  It  had  flowered  first  in 
Palestrina's  motets,,  but  Victoria  molded  it  into  something-  en- 
tirely new.  His  motets,,  though  less'  gracious  and  less,  contrapuntally 
clever  than  Palestrina's,  overflow  with  warmth,  masculine  tender- 
ness, and  mystical  ardor, 

Victoria  was  a  priest.  He,  rather  than  Palestrina,  was  the 
paragon  sought  by  the  reforming  fathers,  of  the  Council  of  Trent: 
he  never  composed  a  secular  piece  or  used  a  secular  theme.  He 
inscribed  a  book  of  motets  and  psalms  not  to  a  Irving'  patron,  but 
"to  the  Mother  of  God  and  to  All  the  Saints."  In  dedicating  a 
book  of  Masses  to  Philip  II  of  Spain,  he  said  that  he  had  been  led 
by  instinct  and  impulse  to  devote  himself  exclusively  to  church 
music.  At  the  same  time,  he  bade  farewell  to  composing,  saying 
that,  he  was  determined  to  resign  himself  to  the  contemplation  of 
divine  things,  as  befitted  a  priest*  He  made  this  vow  in  1583,  but 
the  urge  to  create  was.  too  strong,  and  before  he  died,,  almost  thirty 
years  later,  he  had  published  many  other  volumes. 

Victoria  was  happy  in  his  patrons,,  whose  generosity  enabled 
him  to  issue  his  compositions  in  sumptuous  folios  that  quite  out- 
shone the  publications  of  his  contemporaries.  His  severely  devout 
nature  recommended  him  to  Philip  II,.  who  in  1565  sent  him  to 
Rome  to  continue  his  musical  studies.  Here  he  became  a  chaplain- 
singer,  and  eventually  choirmaster,  at  the  Collegium  Germani- 
cum,  Loyola's  bulwark  against  Lutheranism.  He  worked  at  the 
Collegium,  for  more  than  a  decade,  leaving  in  1578  to  become 
chaplain  to  Philip*s  sister  Maria,  widow  of  the  Emperor  Maxi- 
milian II. 

Victoria's  relations  with  the  Empress  were  close.  He  remained 
in  her  service  until  her  death  in  1603,  and  the  liberal  pension  she 
left  him  in  her  will  evidences  her  esteem.  A  profoundly  devout 
woman,  she  took  up  her  residence  in  Madrid  at  the  convent  of  the 
Franciscan  nuns  known  as  Descalzas  Reales,  and  Victoria's  duties 
included  leading  its  choir.  The  E-mpress*  daughter  Margaret  joined 
this  barefoot  order  in  1584,  and  it  was  to  this  princess  that  he 
dedicated  a  great  Offieiim  defunctorum,  written  for  the  funeral  of 
her  mother.  He  survived  the  Empress  but  eight  years,  during 
which  he  was  chaplain  to  the  Archduchess  Margaret,  and  died  on 
August  27,  1611. 

In  forming  our  judgment  of  Victoria,  we  are  not  embarrassed 

20  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

by  the  overwhelming  output  of  an  Orlando.  The  Spaniard  was 
not  a  prolific  composer:  he  left  less  than  two  hundred  separate 
compositions.  The  most  striking  characteristic  of  his  music  is  its 
hint  of  Moorish  influence:  it  sometimes  uses  those  harmonic  and 
rhythmic  devices  which,  however  metamorphosed  and  cheapened, 
are  to  this  day  the  unmistakable  hallmark  of  Spanish  music.  Vic- 
toria, even  in  his  imitation  of  Pales trina,  retained  his  special  native 
quality:  his  Spanishness  is  as  obvious  as  that  of  Albeniz  or  Falla, 
though  it  is  asserted  less  blatantly. 

No  less  Spanish  is  Victoria's  pervasive  mysticism.,  which  occa- 
sionally borders  on  hysteria.  He  was  very  sure  of  his  mission.  In  the 
dedication  of  the  Canticae  beatae  Virginis,  one  of  his  most  ecstatic 
outpourings,  he  declared  that  his  aim  was  to  compose  music  solely 
as  a  means  for  raising  men's  minds  by  pleasant  stages  to  the  con- 
templation of  divine  truth.  No  music  would  be  more  likely  to  ac- 
complish such  a  purpose  than  Victoria's,  though  cynical  ears  may 
hear  in  it  sounds  more  descriptive  of  Mohammed's  paradise  of 
houris  than  of  a  seemly  Christian  heaven. 

The  death  of  Tomas  de  Victoria  in  1611  brought  to  a  close  the 
great  age  of  unaccompanied  vocal  polyphony.  Music  had  gone 
far  since  that  almost  mythical  past  when  St.  Ambrose  devised  his 
chants,  but  even  in  its  complex  development  it  had  kept  to  sub- 
stantially the  same  road.  The  great  musical  trinity  who  lifted  their 
art  to  equality  with  painting  and  sculpture,  and  added  to  the 
splendor  of  the  dying  Renaissance,  were  better  composers  than 
Okeghem  and  Josquin.  They  handled  richer  materials  with  more 
freedom,  with  more  sweep  and  emotional  depth,  than  the  old 
Flemish  masters.  With  all  their  multifarious  gifts,  they  had  summed 
up  twelve  hundred  years  of  technical  progress,  and  had  set  up 
enduring  monuments  to  the  past.  The  sound  of  their  own  mighty 
cadences,  as  well  as  their  very  position  in  history  as  the  inheritors 
and  fulfillers  of  the  great  tradition  of  ecclesiastical  music,  deafened 
them  to  the  feeble  murmurs  of  the  new  music  coming  to  life  around 
them.  The  first  opera — a  puny  infant — was  performed  while  two 
of  them  were  still  alive. 

Palestrina,  Orlando,  and  Victoria  closed  a  period  with  such 
finality  that  no  further  development  in  unaccompanied  vocal 
polyphony  was  possible.  Their  own  followers,  obscure  men  all, 

THERE    WERE     GREAT    MEN    BEFORE    BACH         21 

were  feeble,  ineffectual,  and  anticlimactic.  Music,  to  develop 
further,  needed  innovators,  experimentalists  with  motivations  and 
compulsions  different  from  those  which  had  unleashed  the  creative 
drive  of  the  great  vocal  contrapuntalists.  It  took  a  hundred  years 
of  experimentation  with  new  forms  and  new  techniques  to  pro- 
duce, in  Johann  Sebastian  Bach  and  George  Frideric  Handel,  men 
comparable  in  stature  to  the  master  polyphonists  of  the  sixteenth 

Chapter  II 

Johann  Sebastian  Bach 

(Eisenach,  March  21,  i685~July  28,  1750,,  Leipzig) 

ONE  of  the  most  dangerous  of  pastimes  is  nominating  a  man  for 
first  place  among  the  musical  immortals.  For  this  supreme 
honor  there  are  rarely  more  than  three  candidates,  and  the  war 
between  their  adherents  wages  perpetually  in  the  living  rooms  of 
the  land.  Like  three  eternally  recurring  cards  in  the  musical  deck, 
Bach,  Beethoven,  and  Mozart  are  dealt  out  with  a  monotonous 
regularity  that  enrages  a  Handel  or  Wagner  cultist.  However, 
there  can  be  no  doubt  that  a  vote  taken  today  would  favor  Johann 
Sebastian  Bach  for  first  or,  just  possibly,  second  place. 

The  growth  of  Bach's  fame  is  in  itself  a  story  of  absorbing  in- 
terest. All  but  forgotten  for  almost  a  century  after  his  death,  he  was 
discovered  by  a  coterie  of  nineteenth-century  musicians  much  as 
classical  antiquity  had  been  discovered  by  the  scholars  of  the 
Renaissance.  Mozart  and  Beethoven  had  both  drunk  deep  at  the 
inexhaustible  well  of  Bach's  technique,  but  it  remained  for  Men- 
delssohn and  Schumann  to  preach  the  greater  Bach.  They  saw 
him  not  merely  as  a  magnificent  textbook,  but  also  as  the  creator 
of  manifold  and  incomparable  beauty.  From  Germany  the  good 
tidings  spread  to  England,  and  then  rapidly  throughout  the  rest  of 
the  Protestant  world.  Bach,  as  pre-eminently  the  glory  of  Protes- 
tant music  as  Pales trina  is  of  Roman  Catholic,  had  to  wait  longer 
for  recognition  in  Latin  countries. 

What  had  begun  as  the  jealous  enthusiasm  of  a  group  came  to 
delight  the  entire  confraternity  of  musicians  throughout  the 
civilized  world.  In  1850  the  Bach  Gesellschaft,  a  society  to  publish 
the  complete  corpus  of  Bach's  surviving  works  (few  of  which  were 
published  during  his  lifetime),  was  founded,  with  twenty-three 
royal  patrons,  and  subscribers  from  a  dozen  countries,  including 
the  United  States.  This  stupendous  undertaking  required  forty- 
nine  years  for  its  completion,  and  was  carried  out  under  several 
editors  of  varying  competence.  Brahms  said  that  the  two  greatest 
events  of  his  lifetime  were  the  founding  of  the  German  Empire  and 
the  completion  of  the  Bach  Gesellschaft's  publications.  With  nu- 

BACH  23 

merous  other  partial  editions  of  Back's  output,,  the  Gesellschaft 
served  to  disseminate  his  compositions  so  effectively  that  today  the 
sun  never  sets  upon  his  empire. 

All  this  tremendous  to-do  would  have  nonplussed  the  indus- 
trious old  town  musician  whose  mortal  greatness  culminated  when 
a  king  deigned  to  give  him  a  theme  for  improvisation.  For  Johann 
Sebastian  Bach  never  once  fancied  himself  as  anything  so  unlikely 
as  the  greatest  composer  in  the  world.  He  was  merely  carrying  on 
the  family  trade  (seven  generations  of  Bachs  had  already  included 
more  than  fifty  cantors,  organists,  and  town  musicians),  and  doing 
his  job  as  well  as  he  knew  how.  What  differentiated  him  from 
Uncle  Christoph  or  Cousin  Johann  Valentin  was  simply  that  he 
happened  to  be  the  greatest  musical  genius  the  world  has  ever 

There  is  no  evidence  to  prove  that  the  far-flung  Bach  dan 
realized  that  Johann  Sebastian  was  much  better  than  they  were: 
even  his  son  Karl  Philipp  Emanuel  dismissed  him  as  c 'musical 
director  to  several  courts  and  in  the  end  cantor  at  Leipzig55 — in 
short,  a  common,  garden  variety  of  Bach.  It  must  be  realized, 
however,  that  this  was  in  itself  high  praise^  for  the  Bachs  were  the 
most  renowned  musical  family  in  Germany,  having  cornered  the 
musical  market  in  at  least  half  a  dozen  towns.  One  branch  of  this 
prolific  family  settled  at  Erfurt^  near  Leipzig,  and  so  identified 
themselves  with  the  musical  life  of  the  town  that  many  years  after 
the  last  of  them  had  departed,  "Bach55  remained  a  synonym  for 
any  musician  plying  his  trade  there. 

The  great  Johann  Sebastian  was  born  on  March  2r,  1685,  at 
Eisenach,  the  capital  of  the  tiny  duchy  of  Saxe-Eisenach.  The 
associations  of  the  town  were  such  that  it  was  as  if  fate  itself 
had  had  a  hand  in  choosing  his  birthplace.  For  here,,  in  the  four- 
hundred-year-old  Wartburga  which  dominated  the  town  from  its 
lofty  eminence,.  Luther  had  made  his  epochal  translation  of  the 
Bible  into  German,  and  had  lightened  the  long  hours  by  singing 
the,  simple,,  rugged  hymns  that  he  loved.  Here  he  had  come  from 
the  Diet  of  Worms,  for  which  he  had  written  Ein  feste  Burg  ist 
unser  Gatt,  that  battle  hymn  of  militant  Protestantism  which  Heine 
called  the  "Marseillaise  of  the  Reformation,53  and  which  Bach  was 
to  know  well  and  to  use  as  the  theme  of  one  of  the  best  loved  of  his 
cantatas.  But  Eisenach  boasted  an  even  more  venerable  tradition, 

24  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

for  in  the  Wartburg,  then  the  seat  of  boisterous  Thuringian  land- 
graves, had  taken  place  in  1207  that  memorable  contest  of  minne- 
singers which  Wagner  immortalized  in  Tannhduser. 

Johann  Sebastian's  father,  Johann  Ambrosius,  one  of  the  Erfurt 
Bachs,  had  come  to  Eisenach  as  town  musician  in  16713  succeeding 
another  member  of  his  ubiquitous  tribe  in  that  post.  Their  clan- 
nishness  is  typified  by  the  fact  that  Johann  Ambrosius  twice  mar- 
ried women  already  related  to  him  by  marriage.  Johann  Sebastian 
was  the  eighth  and  last  child  of  the  first  marriage.  Of  the  amazing, 
almost  miraculous  precocity  that  gives  the  story  of  Mozart's  early 
childhood  an  air  of  legend.  Bach  showed  no  trace  during  his  boy- 
hood in  Eisenach.  We  know  that  he  entered  the  local  Gymnasium^ 
where  he  was  by  no  means  a  star  pupil;  we  assume,  but  do  not 
know,  that  he  received  his  first  clavier  lessons  from  his  father. 

In  1695,  shortly  after  both  his  parents  died,  Bach  was  sent  to  the 
little  village  of  Ohrdruf,  in  the  depths  of  the  Thuringian  Forest. 
Here  life  was  even  quieter  than  at  Eisenach,  and  from  his  organ 
bench  at  the  Lutheran  Michaeliskirche  one  of  Bach's  elder  brothers 
presided  over  the  musical  destinies  of  the  pious  burghers.  In  this 
remote  hamlet  there  was  no  call  for  the  secular  music  that  Johann 
Ambrosius  had  practiced  at  Eisenach.  The  school  where  Bach 
completed  his  formal  education  was  known  for  its  theological  bias 
and  grave  atmosphere;  though  no  pains  were  spared  to  ground  its 
pupils  in  the  humanities,  Ohrdruf  9s  was  primarily  a  stern  school  of 
character.  Its  lessons  had  a  profound,  lifelong  effect  on  Johann 
Sebastian:  the  lad  who  had  nodded  over  his  catechism  at  Eisenach 
now  took  to  his  heart  the  simple  trusting  faith  that  was  to  flower  in 
the  greatest  devotional  music  the  world  has  ever  heard. 

Johann  Sebastian  continued  his  clavier  lessons  with  his  brother, 
and — what  had  an  even  more  important  effect  on  his  life  and  his 
art — began  to  play  the  organ.  This  "king  of  instruments,"  though 
used  in  Christian  churches  as  early  as  the  fifth  century,  developed  a 
literature  comparatively  late,  and  only  came  into  its  own  during 
the  seventeenth  century.  No  interpretive  art  boasts  a  more  majestic 
and  continuous  tradition  than  German  organ  playing.  It  flowers 
with  Reinken  and  Buxtehude,  whom  Bach  heard  and  revered,  and 
runs  unbroken  through  Bach  and  Handel  down  to  Albert  Schweitzer, 
humanitarian,  doctor,  theologian,  and  Bach  scholar.  The  Germans 
were  so  devoted  to  the  organ  that  many  forms  of  music  developing 

BACH  25 

in  Italy  and  France  during  the  seventeenth  century  gained  little 
headway  in  Germany. 

Clavier  music  in  seventeenth-century  Germany  developed  only 
less  rapidly  than  organ  music.  Essentially  Latin  in  its  origins,  it 
was  until  late  a  secondary  interest  that  consumed  the  lighter  in- 
spirations of  the  great  German  masters  of  organ  composition. 
Johann  Sebastian's  brother  owned  a  collection  of  clavier  works  by 
his  teacher,  Johann  Pachelbel,  Bohm,  Buxtehude,  and  others.  For 
some  unknown  reason,  the  use  of  these  pieces  was  refused  the  boy, 
who  thereupon  secretly  took  them  from  the  music  cabinet,  and 
copied  them  out  on  moonlit  nights.  This  six-month  task  was  the  be- 
ginning of  his  lifelong  custom  of  transcribing  music  that  he  wished 
to  study.  When  the  vast  amount  of  music  Bach  copied  is  added  to 
the  noting  down  of  his  own  compositions,  it  is  little  wonder  that  he 
eventually  became  blind. 

In  1700,  when  Bach  was  fifteen  years  old,  and  his  brother  no 
longer  found  it  convenient  to  house  him,  it  happened  that  Lxine- 
burg,  more  than  two  hundred  miles  away,  was  in  need  of  a  good 
soprano.  The  lad,  whose  sweet  treble  had  already  secured  him  a 
paid  job  in  the  Ohrdruf  choir,  made  the  long  journey,  and  was 
promptly  accepted  as  choirboy  at  the  Michaeliskirche.  The  three 
years  he  spent  in  Liineburg  broadened  his  musical  horizon  im- 
measurably, though  the  most  vitalizing  contacts  were  outside  the 
town  itself.  His  own  church  was  pedestrian  in  its  services,  but  at  the 
near-by  Katharinenkirche  the  eminent  Georg  Bohm  sat  at  the 
organ  console.  Already  Johann  Sebastian  had  copied  some  of  this 
man's  work,  and  now  there  is  little  doubt  that  he  came  to  know 
him  personally.  It  was  probably  at  Bohm's  suggestion  that  Bach 
once  trudged  the  thirty  miles  to  Hamburg  to  hear  the  venerable 
Johann  Adam  Reinken,  a  master  of  florid  organ  effects  whose  in- 
fluence is  strong  in  some  of  Bach's  early  works. 

Now,  too,  Bach  was  exposed  to  other  than  purely  German  in- 
fluences. In  the  notable  music  library  of  the  Michaeliskirche  he 
suddenly  came  upon  a  new  world  of  musical  delight.  The  for- 
eigners— Orlando,  Monteverdi,  Carissimi,  and  many  others —  '. 
brought  him  news  of  a  more  urbane  civilization  than  the  one  he 
knew.  And  at  near-by  Celle,  an  imitation  Versailles  whose  Franco- 
phile duke  ate  his  German  food  to  the  accompaniment  of  elegant 

26  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

French  music  played  by  French  musicians.  Bach  caught  the  dim 
reflection  of  a  brilliant  culture,  beside  which  Eisenach,  Ohrdruf, 
and  LiinebuTg  were  uncommonly,  Teutonically  stodgy.  During  his 
many  visits  to  the  ducal  Sckloss  he  may  sometimes  have  taken  his 
place  at  the  clavier.  At  all  events,  the  French  music  he  heard  there, 
including  both  orchestral  suites  and  the  tinkling  clavier  suites  of 
Couperin  le  grand,  profoundly  influenced  him.  Not  only  did  he 
delight  in  this  suave  and  polished  Latin  idiom,  but  his  own  Italian 
Concerto,  French  Suites,  and  other  curiously  un-German  pieces 
show  that  he  understood  it. 

But  Luneburg,  despite  its  many  extraneous  attractions,  did  not 
offer  the  opportunities  Bach  desired  for  bettering  himself  finan- 
cially and  professionally.  In  1702,  when  he  was  only  seventeen,  he 
was  actually  .elected  organist  at  a  ndghboring  town,  but  its  over- 
lord imposed  his  own  candidate  on  the  electors.  A  job  in  the  pri- 
vate band  of  the  reigning  Duke  of  Saxe-Weimar's  younger  brother 
was  in  itself  a  makeshift,  though  it  brought  him  into  contact  with 
one  of  the  most  interesting  minor  figures  in  the  musical  life  of  the 
times.  This  was  his  master's  younger  son,  Johann  Ernst,  a  pre- 
cocious talent  whose  violin  concertos  were  so  beautiful  and  so  pro- 
fessionally made  that  three  of  them  later  adapted  by  Bach  for 
clavier  were  attributed  to  Antonio  Vivaldi,  the  Paganini  of  the 
eighteenth  century. 

While  still  employed  at  Weimar,  Bach  made  the  first  of  those 
journeys  to  inspect  an  organ  that  occur  with  increasing  frequency 
throughout  the  rest  of  his  life.  Although  he  was  but  eighteen  years 
old,  Ms  fame  as  an  organist  had  reached  the  ears  of  the  good  men 
of  Arnstadt,  and  after  he  had  tried  out  the  instrument  they  promptly 
offered  him  a  position. 

Bach's  new  duties  were  not  unusually  onerous,  but  included  one 
he  always  resented:  training  the  choristers.  He  did  not  suffer  tribu- 
lations silently:  he  was  a  vocal  and  irascible  man  even  at  the  age 
of  twenty.  Growing  dissatisfaction  with  his  singers  precipitated  an 
incident  that  does  much  to  correct  the  widespread  false  picture  of 
Bach  as  a  gentle  old  hymn-singing  fogy  entirely  surrounded  by 
childrm.  He  had  reached  such  a  stage  of  exasperation  with  his 
charges  that  they  began  to  resent  his  attitude.  One  night,  as  he 
was  retaining  home  from  the  Residenzschloss,  he  was  attacked  by 

BACH  27 

several  of  them.  One,  hurling  a  pungent  epithet  at  him,  began  to 
belabor  him  with  a  stick,,  but  the  young  organist  defended  himself 
so  ably  with,  his  sword  that  the  ruffians,  retired  discomfited.  The 
fracas  came  to  the  notice  of  the  town  authorities,  and  Bach  was 
called  to  account  for  his  unconventional  behavior.  Nothing  came 
of  the  incident,  but  he  was  now  embarked  on  his  long  career  of 
alternately  explaining  his  doings  to,  and  defying,  stiff-necked 

These  controversies  were  the  trivia  of  a  musical  life  that  at  Arn- 
stadt  began  to  find  its  own  direction.  It  is  not  known  where  or 
when  Johann  Sebastian  wrote  down  his  first  compositions.,  but 
certain  it  is  that  the  first  typical  fruits  of  his  genius  belong  to  his 
stay  at  Arnstadt.  These  compositions  bespeak  a  learner,  not  on-e 
who  has  mastered  his  craft.  The  scoring  of  his  first  cantata,  for 
instance,  is  overheavy  and  highfahitin.  One  of  these  Amstadt 
pieces,  though  slight  musically,  deserves  mention  as  Bach*s  only 
essay  in  out-and-out  program  music.  A  clavier  Capnccw  on  the  De- 
parture of  His  Beloved  Brother,  it  summons  up  the  apprehensions  and 
regrets  of  farewell,  and  imitates  vividly  the  hurly-burly  of  the 

Again,  as  at  Liineburg,  Bach  found  the  most  enduring  inspira- 
tion away  from  the  scene  of  his  official  duties.  In  October,  1705, 
his  employers  granted  him  a  month's  leave  of  absence  so  that  he 
could  go  to  hear  the  most  famous  organist  of  the  day,  Dietrich 
Buxtehude.  Installing  his  cousin  as  deputy  organist,  he  set  out  on 
the  three-hundred-mile  journey  to  the  old  Hanseatic  port  of  Lii- 
beck..  So  widespread  was  the  fame  of  Buxtehude's  Abendmusiken,  or 
evening  church  concerts,  that  it  threatened  the  supremacy  of  Hamr 
burg  in  the  north-German  musical  world.  Bach  was  so  held  in  the 
magical  thrall  of  Buxtehude's  dazzling  technical  display  that  when 
he  finally  tore  himself  away,  three  months  had  passed. 

Back  among  the  staid  Arnstadters,,  their-  organist  exhibited  the 
effects  of  his  hegira  with  stupefying  eloquence.  Their  beloved 
organ,  which  had  been  wont  to  give  forth  only  the  most  conven- 
tional sounds,  now  emitted  such  audacities,  such  swirling  and  un- 
churchly  arabesques,  that  they  were  struck  dumb.,  Bach  had  an- 
nexed many  of  Buxtehude's  extravagances,,  and  had  outstripped 
him  in  improvisation.  These  modernisms  might  have  served  him 

28  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

well  in  a  more  sophisticated  musical  center,  but  in  Arnstadt  they 
bordered  on  heresy.  Once  again  he  was  haled  before  the  authori- 
ties, and  the  accumulated  grievances  burst  out  in  a  relentless  cate- 
chism. Why  had  he  outstayed  his  leave?  Why  was  he  so  stubbornly 
neglecting  his  choirmasterly  duties?  Why  did  he  introduce  mon- 
strosities into  the  simple  Lutheran  tunes?  Why,  finally,  had  he  had 
a  "strange  maiden"  in  the  organ  loft?  Bach's  answer  to  the  first 
three  questions  was — after  some  hemming  and  hawing — to  termi- 
nate his  now  thoroughly  unpleasant  connection  with  the  Michael- 

Bach  next  went  to  Miihlhausen,  another  little  center  of  Thu- 
ringian  life,  where  he  had  secured  the  post  of  organist  at  the  Blasius- 
kirche.  Although  his  stipend  here  was  no  larger  than  in  Arnstadt, 
he  regarded  this  change  as  a  promotion,  for  his  predecessor  had 
been  a  man  of  some  distinction.  And  now  a  timely  legacy  enabled 
him  to  marry  the  "strange  maiden."  She  was  his  cousin,  Maria 
Barbara  Bach,  and  they  were  married  on  October  17,  1707,  re- 
maining in  Miihlhausen  less  than  eight  months  after  their  mar- 
riage. To  this  period,  however,  belongs  the  only  cantata  Bach 
composed  that  was  published  during  his  lifetime:  Gott  ist  mein 
Kbnig.  Doing  his  duty  by  his  new  congregation  was  fraught  with 
difficulties,  but  this  time  Bach's  role  was  that  of  the  innocent  by- 
stander. The  little  town  was  in  the  grips  of  a  feud  between  the 
orthodox  Lutherans  and  a  kill-joy  sect  known  as  Pietists.  Much  of 
the  squabbling  centered  on  the  church  music:  the  orthodox  wanted 
it  just  as  it  was,  and  the  Pietists  did  not  want  it  at  all.  Bach  was 
caught  between  them,  and  had  practically  reached  his  wit's  end 
when  an  opportunity  occurred  to  return  to  Weimar.  The  Miihl- 
hausen authorities  accepted  his  resignation  only  on  condition  that 
he  continue  to  supervise  the  enlargement  of  the  organ  he  had  him- 
self requested. 

As  they  rush  from  the  railway  station  to  the  houses  of  Goethe 
and  Schiller,  and  perhaps  remember  to  visit  the  scenes  of  Liszt's 
declining  years,  visitors  to  Weimar  are  likely  to  forget  Bach's 
fruitful  years  there.  Weimar  itself  has  forgotten  Bach — not  even 
one  of  those  ubiquitous  bronze  plaques  marks  his  possible  dwelling. 
Yet  it  was  at  Weimar  that  he  reached  his  zenith  as  a  composer  for 
the  organ;  here,  too,  he  produced  the  brilliant  "Vivaldi"  Con- 
certos and  many  cantatas,  some  of  them  only  a  shade  less  masterly 

BACH  29 

than  those  of  his  last  period.  Finally,  Weimar  saw  the  birth  of  two 
of  his  three  famous  sons — Wilhelm  Friedemann  and  Karl  Philipp 

Bach's  position  at  Weimar  was  that  of  court  organist  and  cham- 
ber musician  to  the  reigning  Duke,  Wilhelm  Ernst,  brother  to  the 
now  deceased  prince  who  had  first  invited  Bach  there.  His  new 
employer  was  a  petty  tyrant  whose  tolerance  barely  extended  be- 
yond his  own  person.  A  childless,  dour  man,  he  had  a  lively  sense 
of  his  duty  to  keep  the  lower  classes  in  their  place,  and  his  actions 
suggest  that  to  him  anyone  not  in  the  Almanack  de  Gotha  belonged 
among  them.  For  his  own  pleasure  he  supported  a  court  orchestra, 
where  Bach  alternated  between  the  clavier  and  the  violin,  but  his 
public  emphasis  was  all  on  church  music.  Bach,  therefore,  was 
largely  employed  in  the  court  chapel,  an  overdone  baroque  crea- 
tion whose  theatricality  was  by  no  means  as  foreign  to  the  florid, 
ill-considered  virtuosity  of  his  earlier  toccatas  as  some  Bach  experts 
would  lead  us  to  believe.  Pompously  peruked  and  accoutered  in 
the  regular  livery  of  the  Duke's  servants,  Bach  sat  at  the  organ 
every  Sunday  outdoing  Buxtehude,  while  the  gloomy  prince  and 
his  respectfully  morose  court  looked  on  from  the  loges. 

Nothing  that  we  know  about  Wilhelm  Ernst  can  convince  us 
that  he  was  able  to  distinguish  between  the  compositions  of  Bach 
and  those  of  any  other  musician.  He  had  hired  the  best  organist 
available,  and  that,  according  to  the  convention  of  the  times, 
meant  someone  who  would  compose,  improvise,  and  adapt  the 
music  he  played.  The  Duke  was  scarcely  the  man  to  appreciate 
that  his  ears  were  hearing  the  toccata  transformed  from  the  collec- 
tion of  magnificent  fragments  that  had  satisfied  Buxtehude  into  a 
perfectly  molded  whole,  in  which  brilliant  cascades  of  sound  were 
built  into  a  vast  architectural  form.  Buxtehude  left  the  toccata  a 
showpiece;  Bach  made  it  into  a  perfect  vehicle  for  exalted  musical 
ideas.  Such  a  composition  as  the  massive  D  minor  Toccata  and 
Fugue  would  in  itself  have  made  a  deathless  reputation  for  a  lesser 
composer,  but  in  Bach's  case  it  is  only  one  of  many  peerless  works. 
His  treatment  of  the  toccata  illustrates,  at  a  comparatively  early 
stage  of  his  career,  his  phenomenal  capacity  for  saying  the  last 
word  in  the  musical  genres  he  used. 

It  has  been  said  that  Bach  invented  no  musical  form.  This  is  true 
only  if  invented  is  interpreted  literally,  for  he  borrowed  nothing  that 

30  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

he  did  not  transmute  beyond  recognition.  To  take  the  most  striking 
case,  who  would  credit  the  invention  of  what  he  himself  called  the 
passacaglia  to  anyone  but  Bach?  True,  Girolamo  Frescobaldi  and 
Buxtehude  had  composed  fine  passacaglias.  Bach  used  the  form 
only  once,  but  in  this  Passacaglia  in  C  minor  he  is  as  different  from 
them  ,as  they  are  from  the  nameless  Juan  Diego  who  invented  the 
Spanish  folk  rhythm  they  borrowed.  This  grave  and  measured 
dance,  :certainly  one  of  the  most  superbly  conceived  creations  in 
all  music,  affords  the  unique  example  of  a  composer  using  a  form 
once,  exploiting  its  utmost  possibilities,  and  then  abandoning  it. 

It  is  always  a  shock  to  turn  from  Bach's  lofty  creations  to  a  con- 
sideration of  the  humdrum  details  of  his  everyday  life.  Weimar 
jaOTst  have  been  an  uncongenial  place  for  a  man  of  his  touchy  dis- 
position. The  Duke  treated  him  as  a  servant,  and  even  failed  to 
appoint  him  Ho/kapellmeister  when  the  post  fell  vacant;  his  neigh- 
bors treated  him  just  as  they  would  the  cobbler  or  the  apothecary. 
And  why  not?  No  one  observing  Bach  in  the  bosom  of  his  family, 
laboring  over  his  manuscripts,  or  trudging  to  the  Schloss  would 
have  had  the  slightest  reason  to  -suspect  this  bumbling  fellow,  with 
his  short  neck,  protruding  jaw,  slanting  forehead,  and  almost  com- 
ically misshapen  nose,  of  being  even  a  cut  above  the  other  five 
thousand  folk  in  Weimar.  He  loved  his  wife,  was  well  started  on 
his  extraordinary  career  as  a  father  (he  begat  a  grand  total  of 
twenty  children),  and  never  liad  to  scrimp  too  much.  In  an  age 
when  fagade  counted  for  much,  Bach  was  neither  handsome  nor 
clever  nor  highborn  nor  rich — and  the  good  people  of  Weimar 
were  not  music  critics. 

While  it  is  difficult  to  interpret  Bach's  motives  from  the  docu- 
mentary evidence,  it  is  clear  that  after  five  years  in  Weimar  he 
was  prepared  to  consider  bids  from  other  quarters.  Now  the  Lieb- 
frauenkirche  at  Halle  invited  him  to  succeed  Handel's  teacher  as 
its  organist.  After  some  complicated  negotiations,  he  finally  turned 
down  the  offer  because  the  salary  was  less  than  he  was  already 
receiving  at  Weimar.  Further,  the  .Duke  disliked  anyone  leaving 
his  service,  and  chose  this  particular  moment  to  make  him  Konzert- 
meister  and  raise  his  pay.  The  authorities  at  Halle,  resorting  to  the 
time-honored  reasoning  of  post  hoc,  propter  hoc^  accused  Bach  of 
temporizing  with  them  to  force  the  Duke's  hand.  He  answered  this 

BACH  31 

probably  unjustified  charge  in  a  letter  that  was  bath  temperate  and 
dignified,  saying  in  part: 

"To  insinuate  that  I  played  a  trick  upon  your  worshipful  Col- 
legium in  order  to  compel  my  gracious-  master  to  increase  my 
stipend  here  is  unwarranted;  he  has  always  been,  so>  well-disposed 
to  me  and  my  art  that,  certes,  I  have  no  need  to  use  Halle  to  in- 
fluence him.  I  am  distressed  that  our  negotiations:  have  not  reached 
a  satisfactory  conclusion,  but  I  would  ask  whether,  even  if  Halk 
offered  me  an  emolument  equivalent  to  ray  stipend  here,  I  could 
be  expected  to  leave  my  present  situation,  for  the  new  one.5* 

Bach's  position  placed  him  under  obligation  to  compose  ccone 
new  piece  monthly,"  and  so  brought  his  attention  back  to  the 
cantata  form  he  had  already  tried  with  indifferent  success  at  Arn- 
stadt  and  Muhlhausen.  Now  he  collaborated  with  another  mem- 
ber of  the  ducal  household,  Salomo  Franck,.  a  numismatist  with  a 
flair  for  letters,  in  the  production  of  no  fewer  than  thirty  sacred 
cantatas  in  three  years — a  pious  Gilbert-and-SulEvan  partnership 
that  was  crowned  with  great  success.  The  Duke  unloosed  his  puise 
strings  to  provide  paper  (then  a  luxury)  for  these  works.  Although 
none  of  them  is  as  impressive  as  the  best  cantatas  of  Baches  last 
period,  almost  all  contain  fine  single  numbers,  and  at  least  one 
achieves  an  internal  unity  that  places  it  high  among  his  smaller 
compositions.  This — the  popular  Gottes  ^eit  ist  atterbeste  %eit — is 
thoroughly  German  in  its  directness  and  simplicity.  It  follows  the 
text  with  great  sensitivity,  and  the  statement  is  so  personal  that 
some  experts  think  that  Bach  also  wrote  the  words.  Gottes  £ei?s 
tragic  and  poignant  utterance  has  evoked  any  number  of  fantastic 
interpretations:  Rutland  Boughton,  composer  of  the  perennially 
popular  English  opera,  The  Immortal  Hour,  believes  that  it  repre- 
sents the  funeral  of  Christianity! 

The  Duke  of  Saxe- Weimar's1  dynastic  plans  now  began  to  influ- 
ence the  course  of  Bach's  life.  He  had  no  children,,  and  his  heir 
presumptive  was  unmarried.  In  1714,  taking  Bach  along,  he  paid 
a  ceremonial  visit  to  the  Landgrave  of  Hesse-Cassel,  in  search  of  a 
wife  for  this  nephew.  Matrimonially,  the  visit  was  a.  fizzle,  but  it 
gave  Bach  an  opportunity  to  play  before  the  music-loving'  Land- 
grave and  his  son  Frederick,  the  future  King  of  Sweden.  Bach's 
performance  on  this  occasion  was  so  brilliant  that,  in  the  words  of 
one  of  the  audience,  "His:  feet,  flying  over  the  pedals  as  though 

32  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

they  were  winged,  made  the  notes  reverberate  like  thunder  in  a 
storm,  till  the  Prince  Frederick,  cum  stupore  admiratus^  pulled  a  ring 
from  his  finger,  and  presented  it  to  the  player.  Now  bethink  you, 
if  Bach's  skilful  feet  deserved  such  a  bounty,  what  gift  must  the 
prince  have  offered  to  reward  his  hands  as  well?" 

Two  years  later,  Wilhelm  Ernst  made  another  ceremonial  visit, 
this  time  to  Duke  Christian  of  Saxe-Weissenfels.  The  occasion  was 
a  great  hunting  party  arranged  in  honor  of  Christian's  thirty-fifth 
birthday,  and  his  cousin  of  Weimar  commissioned  his  Konzert- 
meister  to  compose  an  appropriately  jolly  piece.  The  result  was 
Bach's  first  secular  cantata,  Was  mir  behagt,  an  allegorical  and 
mythological  work  which  produced  such  an  effect  that  Christian 
had  it  performed  again  thirteen  years  later  when  he  made  Bach 
his  honorary  Kapellmeister.  If  such  Olympian  celebrities  as  Diana 
and  Pan  seem  out  of  place  in  Bach,  it  will  be  recalled  that  he  had 
been  studying  contemporary  French  and  Italian  works  that  made 
abundant  use  of  mythological  machinery. 

The  same  year  Bach  returned  to  Halle  to  inspect  and  perform 
on  the  new  organ  at  the  Liebfrauenkirche.  The  rancor  of  the  Col- 
legium was  entirely  dissipated,  and  Bach  was  regaled  at  a  Teu- 
tonic feast  of  epic  proportions:  "Eggs  boiled  in  brine,  cold  meats, 
ox  tongues,  and  saveloys,-  washed  down  with  Rhenish  and  Fran- 
conian  wine  and  beer."  During  his  six-day  visit,  coachmen  and  a 
staff  of  servants  were  at  his  constant  disposal.  Clearly,  Bach's  dig- 
nified estimate  of  himself  as  a  personage  had  led  the  Halle  au- 
thorities to  treat  him  as  one. 

Bach's  reputation  as  an  organist  was  growing  apace.  The  staging 
of  a  contest  between  him  and  Louis  Marchand,  organist  to  Louis 
XV,  began  to  be  discussed.  As  Handel's  interests  lay  almost  ex- 
clusively in  England,  this  would  have  brought  together  the  two 
most  noted  Continental  organists  of  the  day.  Marchand's  part  in 
the  business  seems  to  have  been  confined  to  a  great  deal  of  pre- 
liminary boasting,  but  when  Bach  arrived  in  Dresden,  where  the 
bout  was  to  take  place,  and  Marchand  accidentally  heard  him  im- 
provising, his  assuredness  collapsed,  and  he  fled  from  town  by  the 
first  post  chaise.  Commenting  on  this  ignominous  retreat,  Dr.  Bur- 
ney  wrote,  "It  was  an  honor  to  Pompey  that  he  was  conquered  by 
Caesar,  and  to  Marchand  to  be  only  vanquished  by  Bach." 

This  bloodless  conquest  took  place  during  a  crisis  in  Bach's  life. 

BACH  33 

It  had  all  begun  when  Wilhelm  Ernst  finally  persuaded  a  respect- 
able and  well-dowered  widow  to  marry  his  heir,  Ernst  Augustus. 
This  lady's  brother.  Prince  Leopold  of  Anhalt-Cothen,  a  gifted 
musical  amateur,  met  Bach  at  his  new  brother-in-law's  palace,  and 
was  so  impressed  by  his  genius  that  he  forthwith  offered  him  the 
position  of Kapellmeister  at  Co  then.  Several  considerations  prompted 
Bach  to  entertain  the  offer.  As  a  member  of  the  ducal  household 
he  was  hedged  in  by  a  thousand  irritating  restrictions,  not  the 
least  of  which  forbade  him  to  visit  the  heir  presumptive  and  his 
wife,  with  whom  the  Duke  was  constantly  quarreling.  In  defiance 
of  this  ukase,  Bach's  friendship  with  Ernst  Augustus  and  his  con- 
sort continued  on  so  intimate  a  footing  that  the  Duke  became  sus- 
picious. Any  chance  of  closing  the  rift  between  Bach  and  his  em- 
ployer was  precluded  when  the  Duke  passed  over  Bach's  head  in 
appointing  a  new  Kapellmeister,  the  highest  musical  honor  in  his 
gift.  Smarting  from  this  indignity,  Bach  proceeded  to  his  triumph 
at  Dresden,  and  came  back  with  his  mind  made  up.  He  informed 
Prince  Leopold  of  his  willingness  to  leave  Weimar,  and  the  deal 
was  closed  in  August,  1717. 

When  Bach  applied  for  his  release,  the  Duke  was  furious.  In- 
nately opposed  to  change  as  something  inherently  wrong,  he  saw 
in  the  threatened  departure  of  one  of  his  best  musicians  a  deter- 
mination on  his  heir's  part  to  interrupt  the  smooth  tenor  of  his 
life.  He  refused.  Bach  insisted,  and  on  November  6  the  Duke  placed 
him  under  arrest.  During  his  incarceration,  which  lasted  almost  a 
month,  Bach  seems  to  have  imitated  the  examples  of  Cervantes, 
Bunyan,  and  other  geniuses  who  suffered  imprisonment,  by  con- 
tinuing to  work  at  his  art.  The  one  thing  he  did  not  do  was  change 
his  mind.  Torture  being  out  of  fashion,  the  Duke  had  to  give  in, 
and  on  December  2  he  granted  this  stubborn  servant  permission 
to  go  elsewhere.  On  that  date  Bach's  official  career  as  an  organist 
came  to  an  end.  Little  more  than  a  week  later,  he  was  settled  at 

The  move  was  a  drastic  one.  From  a  worldly  point  of  view,  it 
meant  promotion,  more  prestige,  and  more  pay.  Bach  had  always 
coveted  the  title  of  Kapellmeister,  and  for  some  years  had  needed  an 
income  more  nearly  commensurate  with  the  demands  of  a  rapidly 
growing  family.  The  attitude  of  his  new  patron  was  like  a  tonic  to 
his  flagging  spirits.  At  Weimar  he  and  his  family  had  been  cooped 

34  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

up  in  such  narrow  quarters  that  his  own  health  and  that  of  faik 
children  had  been  imperiled.  At  Cothen,  as  the  friend,  rather  than 
the  servant  of  Prince  Leopold,  he  seems  to  have  settled  with  his 
family  in  the  Schioss.  After  the  rigors  of  court  Hfe  in,  Weimar,  Bach 
iBiast  have  looked  forward  to  Cothen  as  a  blessed  dispensation. 

But  Cothen  proved  to  be  a  mixed  blessing.  Pleasant  shelter  it 
was,  but  Bach  paid1  for  it  by  renouncing  the  most  solemn  duty  he 
had  laid  upon  himself:  to  dedicate  his  art  to  the  service  of  God. 
IB  Gothen-  this-  was  literally  impossible,,  for  the  official  Calvinism 
of  tke  dynasty  allowed  only  the  sternest,  most  unadorned  hymns 
to  be  sung  in  chapel.  There  was-  no  call  for  the  cantatas  and 
chorales  that  until  then  had  tapped  the  purest  so?urce$  of  Bach's 
genius..,  Willy-nilly,,  he  had  to  turn  to  the  secular  art  practiced-  by 
his  father  and"  grandfather,  and  provide  music  for  the  players  in 
the  court  band,  in  which  the  Prince  himself  played  the  clavier, 
violin-^  or  viola  da  gamba.  Simultaneously  he; — the  most  famous 
organist  of  the  age — found  himself  without  constant  access  to  an 
organ  worthy  of  hi&  supreme  talents.  All  this  meant  that,  at  the 
age  of  thirty-two,  Bach  had  to  learn  to  function  in  a  new  world. 

Bach  did  not  completely  lose  touch  with  the  world  be  had  aban- 
doned. His  celebrity  as  an  organist  and  authority  on  the  instru- 
ment itself  brought  him  constant  invitations  from  other  towns.  Less 
than  a  week  after  his  arrival  at  Cdthen,  he  was  off  to  Leipzig  to 
inspect  the  new  organ  in  the  Paulinerkirche.  His  report  bristles 
with,  rare  knowledge  of  acoustics  and  details  o£  organ  manufacture. 
More  picturesque  are  the  records  of  his  visitr  in  1720,  to  Hamburg, 
where  the  seemingly  imperishable  Reinken  was  still  active.  Prob- 
ably Bach  went  there  to  compete  for  the  vacant  post  of  organist  at 
the  Jacobikirche>  and  as  Reinken  was  one  of  the  judges,,  played 
before  the  ninety-seven-year-old  master.  After  the  younger  man 
had  improvised  for  a  good  hour  on  a  theme  Reinfoen  himself  had 
once  used,,  this  mighty  voice  from  the  past  spoke,,  "I  thought  this: 
art  was  dead,  but  I  see  it  still  lives  in  you."  Eventually  the  Jaoobi- 
kirche  organ  was  offered  to  Bach,  but  he  declined  it,,  chiefly  be- 
cause of  his  loyalty  to  Prince  Leopold. 

If^  despite  this  loyalty,  Bach  really  was  looking  for  other  employ- 
rnent  in  Hamburg,  there  were  two  reasons.,  First,  there  was  in 
Cothen  no  Lutheran  school  where  he  could  send  his  children. 
Second,  the  town  became  crowded  with  sad  memories;  for  him 

BACH  35 

when,  on  returning  from  a  trip  to  Carlsbad  with  the  Prince,  he 
found  Ms  wife  dead  and  .already  buried.  Of  the  seven  children  she 
had  borne  him,  four  survived,  and  the  task  of  caring  for  them  fell 
on  him  alone,  for  the  eldest  was  a  twelve-year-old  girl.  Less  than 
a  year  and  a  half  later,  he  led  Anna  Magdalena  Wilcken  to  the 
altar.  His  new  bride,  though  only  twenty,  was  a  court  singer  earn- 
ing half  as  much  as  Bach  himself.  What  was  in  every  sense  an  ex- 
cellent match  turned  out  to  be  a  iappy  marriage,  for  Anna  Mag- 
dalena  was  a  good  housekeeper,  a  good  stepmother,  and  a  good 
musician.  She  bore  him  thirteen  children,  including  his  third  fa- 
mous .son,  Johann  Christian,  the  "English"  Bach,  She  was  his 
faithful  companion  and  helpmeet  until  his  death,  and  survived 
him  for  ten  years. 

Meanwhile,  Bach  did  not  forget  his  children's  musical  education. 
Wilhelm  Friedemann,  always  his  favorite,  was  the  first  to  receive 
instruction.  The  little  exercise  book  his  father  wrote  out  for  him  is 
still  preserved.  Partly  from  these  exercises,  headier  fare  was  soon 
provided  in  twenty-four  preludes  and  fugues  for  the  clavier.  With 
a  second  set  compiled  at  Leipzig  in  1 744,  these  were  published  after 
Bach's  death  as  The  Wdl-Tempered  Clavichord*  This  title,  indicating 
Bach's  secondary  purpose  in  composing  them,  is  less  mysterious 
than  it  sounds.  "Tempered"  merely  means  "tuned/5  and  so  The 
Well-  Tempered  Clavichord  is  Bach's  pronuncianiento  against  the  old 
system  of  tuning  instruments  which,  as  H.  C.  Colles  pithily  ob- 
serves, "made  the  instruments  beautifully  in  tune  in  certain  keys, 
the  more  usual  ones,  and  quite  unbearable  in  others."  By  writing 
this  series  of  pieces,  one  for  each  major  and  minor  key,  Bach  forced 
upon  the  old-fashioned  tuners  that  modern  system  which  prepares 
the  instrument  for  playing  in  any  key. 

If  The  Well-Tempered  Clavichord  had  done  nothing  more  than 
revolutionize  tuning,  it  would  still  be  worth  a  paragraph  in  any 
history  of  music,  for  much  of  the  effectiveness  of  the  instrumental 
music  of  the  eighteenth  century  and  later  depends  upon  the  ability 
to  shift  from  one  key  to  another  without  catastrophic  sound  effects. 
But  it  is  as  revolutionary  musically  as  technically.  These  preludes 
and  fugues,  starting  out  as  exercises  for  children,  have,  like  Cho- 
pin's etudes,  been  graduated  from  the  studio  to  the  concert  hall, 
where  their  popularity  shows  unflagging  vitality-  Nor  is  this  only 
because  of  the  many-sidedness  of  the  task  they  set  the  performer, 

36  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

In  sheer  musical  quality,  in  variety  of  mood,  and  in  unceasing  in- 
ventiveness, they  are  scarcely  matched  in  the  entire  field  of  key- 
board literature.  With  these  "Forty-eight"  and  the  partitas  and 
French  and  English  Suites,  Bach  raised  the  clavier  to  a  position  of 
pre-eminence  that  its  descendant — the  modern  piano — has  sus- 
tained to  this  day. 

The  Well-  Tempered  Clavichord  has  had  a  varied  and  amazing  ca- 
reer, some  of  which  would  have  delighted  the  pedagogue  in  Bach. 
Not  only  is  it  a  favorite  with  virtuosos  and  their  audiences,  but  it 
is  also  used  as  a  textbook  in  the  study  of  harmony,  counterpoint, 
and  fugue.  Although  Schumann  called  it  the  "musicians'  Bible," 
many  have  dared  to  violate  the  sacred  text.  The  unfortunate  "Forty- 
eight"  have  been  adapted  for  other  instruments,  transcribed,  and 
probably  even  sung.  Needless  to  say,  they  have  not  escaped  the 
lush  orchestrating  hand  of  Dr.  Leopold  Stokowski.  But  the  first 
prelude  of  the  first  set  has  suffered  the  strangest  fate  of  all.  Using 
it  as  an  accompaniment  to  the  text  of  the  Ave  Maria,  the  composer 
of  Faust  was  inspired  to  add  a  honeyed  soprano  obbligato.  But 
even  in  this  form  the  prelude  is  indestructible — Gounod's  Ave 
Maria  is  among  the  most  popular  songs  ever  manufactured. 

Another  favorite  from  the  Gothen  period  is  the  set  of  six  con- 
certos written  at  the  request  of  Christian  Ludwig,  Margrave  of 
Brandenburg,  an  obscure  younger  son  of  the  House  of  Hohen- 
zollern.  These  stirring,  vibrant  pieces  represent  Bach's  first  excur- 
sion into  purely  instrumental  music  on  a  large  scale.  They  are  not 
concertos  in  the  modern  sense;  that  is,  they  are  not  for  a  solo  in- 
strument accompanied  by  the  rest  of  the  orchestra.  Rather,  they 
are  more  like  concerti  grossi,  in  which  several  instruments  have  more 
important  roles  than  the  balance  of  the  ensemble.  The  "Branden- 
burg" Concertos  exhibit  Bach  as  a  tireless  experimentalist,  con- 
stantly trying  new  effects,  testing  the  color  of  various  instrumental 
combinations,  and  indulging  his  own  concepts  of  form.  The  "Bran- 
denburg" at  their  best  tremble  on  the  brink  of  being  orchestral 
music  in  the  modern  sense,  and  only  Bach's  way  of  conceiving  the 
parts  vocally  keeps  them  from  being  so.  Andre  Pirro,  whose  study 
of  Bach's  esthetic  is  definitive,  has  flatly  called  them  symphonies. 
Of  the  six,  the  third  has  long  been  the  most  popular.  Scored  for 
strings  and  clavier,  it  consists  of  two  vigorous  allegros — bracing 
instrumental  polyphony  that  moves  to  irresistible  rhythms.  All  the 

BACH  37 

others  have  contrasting  slow  movements  and,  with  the  exception 
of  the  sixth,  are  scored  for  strings,  wind  instruments,  and  clavier. 
The  andante  of  the  second  is  of  a  serene  and  unearthly  loveliness 
that  even  Bach  himself  has  not  often  equaled.  These  are  but  iso- 
lated beauties  in  five  small  masterpieces  (for  the  first  is  by  com- 
parison uninspired)  that  Schweitzer  has  called  "the  purest  prod- 
ucts of  Bach's  polyphonic  style.53 

The  Well-Tempered  Clavichord  and  the  "Brandenburg"  Concertos 
by  no  means  complete  the  tally  of  Bach's  instrumental  works. 
There  exist,  in  bewildering  profusion,  pieces  for  clavier,  violin,  and 
various  ensembles.  In  discussing  these,  confusion  worse  confounded 
arises  from  the  impossibility  of  establishing  their  chronological 
order,  and  from  the  absurdity  of  the  names  applied  to  many  of 
them  by  editors  and  publishers.  As  enjoyment  of  these  delightful 
pieces  does  not  depend  on  knowing  when  they  were  written,  or 
why  one  is  called  a  French  Suite  rather  than  a  partita,  solving 
these  puzzles  can  safely  be  left  to  the  musical  Dr.  Dryasdusts.  Bach 
himself  was  too  busy  for  such  minutiae;  he  did  not  scruple  to  move 
a  whole  section  from  a  secular  into  a  sacred  cantata  written  more 
than  a  decade  later.  His  borrowings  from  himself  were  sometimes 
made  with  ludicrous  results,  and  only  a  hair  divides  his  worst 
transplantations  from  Handel's  callously  putting  Agrippina's  words 
and  music  into  Mary  Magdalene's  mouth.  And  he  borrowed  from 
others,  too — notably  some  of  the  best  melodies  in  the  St.  Matthew 
Passion.  Bach  was  not  composing  for  his  biographers:  he  was  al- 
ways devising  a  cantata  for  the  Duke  of  Saxe- Weimar,  finishing  a 
suite  for  Prince  Leopold,  or  piecing  together  a  Passion  for  the 
Leipzig  worthies — he  was  like  a  newspaperman  with  a  perpetual 

All  of  Bach's  instrumental  music,  except  that  for  the  organ,  be- 
longs in  spirit  to  his  happy  years  at  Cothen,  whether  written  there 
or  at  Leipzig.  French  Suites,  English  Suites,  partitas,  and  con- 
certos— most  of  them  contain  music  of  rare  quality,  for  Bach  could 
not  write  long  without  achieving  some  memorable  measures.  Oc- 
casionally he  strikes  a  note  of  grandeur,  as  in  the  last  movement  of 
the  second  partita  for  violin  alone — the  sublimely  built  chaconne, 
as  varied,  as  perfect,  and  as  lifting  as  a  great  Gothic  cathedral.  But 
the  adjectives  that  best  describe  most  of  this  instrumental  music — 
delightful,  charming,  sprightly — are  not  those  commonly  applied 

38  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

to  the  greatest  music.  Compared  to  the  Bach  of  the  B  minor  Mass 
and  the  Matthew  Passion^  they  are  lightweight.  They  are  the  diver- 
sions of  a  man  whose  deepest  and  most  intense  inspirations  were  of 
a  religious  nature.  The  Italian  Concerto  has  the  feckless  gaiety  of 
a  man  enjoying  his  vacation.  The  French  Suites  echo  the  heeltaps 
of  Versailles.  The  concerto  for  four  claviers  is  a  delicious  excursion 
into  pure  melody. 

But  the  conception  of  an  unrelievedly  pious  Bach  dies  hard.  He 
loved  his:  life  in  Cothen,,  even  though  he  could  not  write  religious 
music  there.  The  idea  that  he  was  unhappy  in  Cothen  is  the  inven- 
tion of  earnest  souls  who  insist  upon  standing  up  for  his  better 
nature,  which  they  must  have  unrelieved.  Actually.,  seven  years 
after  leaving  Cothen  he.  was  still  writing  wistfully  of  his  life  there: 
"Its  gracious:  Prince  loved  and  understood  music,  so  that  I  ex- 
pected to  end  my  days  there.53  In  this:  same  letter,  he  revealed  the 
true  cause  of  his  departure:  "My  Serenissinms*  married  a  Bernburg 
wife,  and  in  consequence,  so  it  seemed,  his  musical  inclination 
abated,  while  his  new  Princess  proved  to  be  an  amusa"  This  lady^ 
whom  Prince  Leopold  took  as  his  consort  a  week  after  Bach*s  mar- 
riage to  Anna  Magdalena^  disliked  music,,  and  resentment  of  the 
time  her  husband  gave  to  it  soon  changed  to  jealousy  of  Bach. 
Leopold3  s  growing  coolness  fortified  the  composer  in  his  wish  to 
move  to  a  town  where  his  children  could  attend  a  Lutheran  school. 

In  1722,  Johann  Kuhnau,  one  of  the  earliest  composers  of  pro- 
gram music,  died,  leaving  vacant  the  cantorate  of  the  Thomas- 
schule.  in  Leipzig.  Although  this,  was  not  at  the  time  a  very  im- 
portant post,  six  candidates'  presented  themselves,  including,  the 
redoubtable  Georg  Philipp  Telemann,  musical  autocrat  of  Ham- 
burg. Telemann,  whose  candidacy  was  a  mere  political  maneuver, 
was  unanimously  elected,  but  preferred  to  return  to  Hamburg  and 
enjoy  an  increased  stipend.  Bach  then  entered  the  field,,  but  the 
electors3  second  choice  fell  upon  one  Graupner,  a  nonentity  em- 
ployed as  Kapellmeister  at  Darmstadt.  His1  employer  refused  to  re- 
lease him,  however,  and  Bach  was  then  chosen  because,  as  the 
electors  explicitly  said,  no  one  better  offered  himself.  By  May, 
1723,  he  and  his  family  were  settled  in  their  new  home. 

In  Leipzig,  Bach,  entered  seriously  upon,  his  career  as  a  litigant. 

*  The  italicized  words  in  quotations  from  Bach  have  been  left  in  the  language  and 
form  in  which  he  wrote  them. 

BACH  39 

His  official  duties  as  cantor  of  the  Thomasschule,  an  ancient  acad- 
emy for  poor  students  who  were  tcained  to  sing  in  the  -choirs  of  the 
four  principal  .city  churches,  would,  under  ideal  conditions,  have 
made  him  musical  dictator  of  Leipzig.  But  such  conditions  were 
lacking:  there  was  nothing  in  the  rules  and  regulations  of  the 
Thomasschule  that  dearly  defined  the  cantor's  office,  and  Bach's 
conception  of  his  duties  differed  widely  from  what  the  rector  and 
other  officials  expected  of  him.  He  was  to  furnish  a  cantata  for  the 
Thomaskirdhe  and  the  Nikoiaikirche  on  alternate  Sundays — he 
favored  the  Thomaskirche.  He  was  to  teach  Latin  to  the  scholars, 
and  to  supervise  their  .choral  training — he  either  neglected  these 
duties  or  delegated  them  to  .others.  These  omissions  led  to  constant 
and  protracted  bickering,  acrimonious  letters  exchanged,  appeals 
to  the  Elector  of  Saxony,  and  picayune  feuds  over  questions  of 
precedence  ;and  prerogative.  Bach,  who  had  gone  to  Gothen  partly 
because  he  .coveted  tke  title  <£  Kapellmeister  ^  felt  that  a  cantorat^ 
and  many  of  its  -duties  were  beneath  his  dignity:  he  salved  his 
vanity  by  .acting  .as  though  he  were  .still  a  Kapellmeister  >  and  by 
calling  himself  .Director  Musices. 

When  Bach  arrived  in  Leipzig,  the  opera,  founded  there  as  early 
as  1693,,  was  in  a  decayed  state,  and  folded  up  several  years  later. 
Otherwise,  the  town  was  already  launched  on  its  stately  'career  as 
one  of  the  musical  centers  of  the  world.  During  Bach's  lifetime 
there  was  founded  a  small  civic  society  of  instrumentalists,  and 
from  this  humble  origin  grew  the  Gewandhaus  concerts,  which 
have  numbered  among  their  conductors  Mendelssohn,  Nikisch, 
and  Fnrtwangler,  A  more  cosmopolitan  life  than  was  common  to 
the  rest  of  Germany  existed  at  Leipzig  because  of  the  great  trade 
fairs  that  were  held  there  annually.  The  many  foreigners  who  came 
to  these,  and  the  town's  large  leisure  class  combined  to  produce  a 
more  sophisticated  culture  than  that  to  which  Bach  had  been  used. 

Bach  celebrated  his  first  Christmas  in  Leipzig  by  performing  one 
of  his  masterpieces — the  Latin  Magnificat.  On  Christmas  Eve,  it 
was  the  pleasing  custom  at  the  Thomaskirche — one  continued  well 
into  the  nineteenth  century— to  stage  a  sort  of  mystery  play  of  the 
birth  of  Christ.  Bach's  contribution  to  the  fete  was  his  largest 
church  work  up  to  this  -time:  it  is  scored  for  a  five-part  choros, 
soloists,  and  full  orchestra,  as  that  term  was  .then  mteprefced.  It  is 
rarely  heard,  for  its  qualities  have  less  appeal  than  those  of  the 

4O  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

B  minor  Mass  and  the  St.  Matthew  Passion.  The  fact  that  Bach  was 
setting  Latin  words  may  well  have  prompted  him  to  use  an  aloof, 
objective  style  which  owes  much  to  the  technically  tight  Italianism 
of  the  times.  There  is  nothing  personal  or  reflective  about  the 
Magnificat:  it  depends  for  its  effect  on  its  flawless  formality,  its 
unearthly  jubilance,  and  its  florid  conduct  of  the  voices.  It  is,  of  all 
Bach's  works,  the  one  best  meriting  the  oft-repeated  sneering  com- 
ment on  his  music — "golden  mathematics." 

For  ten  years  or  more,  Bach's  fight  for  prestige  and  ideal  condi- 
tions for  producing  his  music  went  on  at  a  jog  trot,  though  his 
field  of  controversy  was  slowly  widening.  He  got  off  to  a  bad  start 
by  inheriting  a  feud  with  the  University  authorities  from  his  prede- 
cessor. It  involved  the  ex  officio  right  of  the  Thomascantor  to  con- 
duct certain  services  in  the  Paulinerkirche,  or  University  church. 
After  two  years  of  fruitless  warfare  with  its  musical  director,  Bach 
appealed  to  the  Elector,  who  instantly  commanded  the  University 
to  answer  Bach's  charges.  As  their  reply  was  unsatisfactory  in  cer- 
tain details,  Bach  sent  to  the  Elector  the  longest  letter  extant  from 
his  pen.  Its  Jesuitical  casuistry  elicited  from  Augustus  the  Strong 
a  fence-straddling  reply  worthy  of  the  oracle  of  Delphi.  It  indicated 
the  separate  provinces  of  the  Stadtcantor  and  his  opponent,  but  left 
the  boundary  between  them  vague.  Therefore,  when  the  Electress 
Christiane  Eberhardine  died,  the  feud  took  a  new  turn,  as  neither 
rival  had  a  clear  title  to  the  right  to  conduct  the  memorial  service 
for  her  august  and  truly  lamented  majesty.  This  time  Bach  won: 
on  October  17,  1727,  seated  at  a  clavier  in  the  organ  loft  of  the 
Paulinerkirche,  Johann  Sebastian  triumphantly  conducted  one  of 
his  less  distinguished  compositions. 

Less  acrimonious,  but  involving  finer  music,  was  a  misunder- 
standing with  the  Nikolaikirche,  always  the  stepchild  of  Bach's 
conscience.  Among  his  duties  was  that  of  providing  the  Thomas- 
kirche  and  the  Nikolaikirche  on  alternate  years  with  special  Good 
Friday  music  known  as  a  Passion.  In  applying  for  the  cantorate, 
he  had  composed  a  Passion  to  prove  his  abilities,  and  had  per- 
formed if  in  the  Thomaskirche  on  Good  Friday,  1723.  The  au- 
thorities of  the  Nikolaikirche,  which  had  missed  its  turn  in  1722, 
were  eagerly  awaiting  the  Holy  Week  of  1724,  when  they  were  sud- 
denly confronted  with  programs  announcing  that  the  Passion 
would  again  be  performed  in  the  Thomaskirche.  They  protested, 

BACH  41 

and  Bach  answered  that  their  facilities  were  inadequate:  the  gal- 
lery was  too  small,  and  the  organ  was  a  wreck.  By  immediately 
tending  to  these  matters,  the  authorities  forced  Bach's  hand,  and 
on  Good  Friday,  1 724,  the  Nikolaikirche  heard  the  St.  John  Passion. 

This  was  the  first  of  possibly  five  Passions  that  Bach  wrote,  of 
which  two  unquestionably  authentic  ones  remain.  A  third,  though 
in  his  handwriting,  is  probably  a  copy  of  a  work  by  another  com- 
poser. When  Bach  died,  his  manuscripts  were  divided  among  the 
members  of  his  family,  the  Passions  falling  to  Karl  Philipp  Eman- 
uel  and  Wilhelm  Friedemann.  The  methodical  younger  son  cher- 
ished his  share,  and  the  John  and  Matthew  are  therefore  preserved. 
But  the  ne'er-do-well  Wilhelm  Friedemann  lost  the  three  entrusted 
to  him.  His  loss  of  these  has  given  rise  to  a  literature  of  conjecture 
as  to  their  nature  and  quality  that  almost  equals  the  commentaries 
on  the  existing  Passions. 

Bach  was  not  fortunate  in  the  libretto  for  the  John  Passion.  He 
used,  in  addition  to  direct  quotations  from  the  eighteenth  and 
nineteenth  chapters  of  the  Gospel  according  to  John,  parts  of  a 
poetic  paraphrase  of  the  same  material  by  Barthold  Heinrich 
Brockes,  a  Hamburg  town  councilor.  Despite  its  confused  and 
feeble  character,  Brockes'  libretto  was  much  favored  by  other 
eighteenth-century  composers,  including  Handel.  Bach  attempted 
to  improve  on  Brockes,  and  achieved  passages  whose  absurdity 
surpasses  even  the  original.  His  work  on  the  text  clearly  evidences 
the  harried  spirit  of  a  man  writing  against  time,  and  the  music 
itself  shows  traces  of  the  same  hurry.  The  whole  work  produces  a 
certain  disjointed  effect  that  certainly  was  not  part  of  the  compos- 
er's plan.  But  the  John  Passion  was  written  as  part  of  a  church 
service  in  which  every  circumstance  conspired  to  bridge  what  mod- 
ern concertgoers  may  feel  are  gaps  in  the  formal  structure. 

The  John  Passion  opens  with  a  massive  chorus  done  in  Bach's 
largest  manner.  It  is,  with  the  possible  exception  of  the  alto  aria, 
"Es  ist  vollbracht,"  the  most  effective  section  of  the  work.  Certain 
portions  are  positively  operatic  in  their  impact,  notably  in  the 
Golgotha  music,  where  the  mighty  catechism  of  the  full  chorus  is 
answered  by  a  solo  voice,  producing  a  moment  of  piercing,  intoler- 
able tragedy.  Although  the  rest  of  the  Passion  is  not  at  this  intense 
pitch,  there  are  many  surpassingly  fine  pages  evoking  despair  and 
triumph,  interspersed  with  passages  of  the  most  appealing  tender- 

42  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

ness.  And  yet,  with  its  many  excellences,  the  John  Passion  has  a 
way  of  creaking  at  the  joints:  the  episodes  succeed  each  other 
without  cumulating.  The  work  in  its  present  state  was  twice  re- 
vised by  Bach;  even  so,  it  remains  a  stringing  together  of  musically 
unequal  units.  v 

The  St.  Matthew  Passion  leaves  no  such  impression  of  makeshift. 
From  the  first  moment,  when  the  choral  floodgates  are  flung  open, 
to  the  tragic  revery  at  Christ*s  tomb,  this  tremendous  drama, 
which  is  scored  for  three  choruses,  two  orchestras,  two  organs,  and 
soloists,  and  which  takes  three  hours  to  perform,  is  deeply  felt, 
flawlessly  designed,  and  magnificently  achieved.  First  produced  at 
the  Thomaskirche  in  1729,  it  shows  such  unfailing  command  of 
the  material  that  it  lends  weight  to  the  well-attested  theory  that 
another  Passion,  now  lost,  intervened  between  it  and  the  John 
Passion.  The  Matthew  is,  by  comparison,  a  revolutionary  work. 

In  the  first  place,  Bach  was  not  plagued  by  a  poor  libretto. 
Christian  Friedrich  Henrici,  a  local  postal  official  who  wrote  under 
the  name  of  Picander,  had  collaborated  with  him  as  early  as  1725, 
and  now  provided  a  workmanlike  and  thoroughly  adequate  text, 
which,  considering  the  abject  state  of  German  poetry  at  the  time, 
was  no  mean  task.  It  was  so  exactly  what  Bach  needed  that  we  can 
assume  that  Picander  was  an  amiable  man  who  probably  was 
happy  to  take  any  reasonable  suggestion  from  his  collaborator.  He 
cleverly  devised  the  Matthew  Passion  libretto  so  that  the  two  sec- 
tions are  contrasted  dramatically:  the  first  is  lyrical,  reflective,  al- 
most a  commentary,  until,  in  its  closing  moments,  Judas'  betrayal 
of  Christ  foreshadows  the  swiftly  moving  catastrophe  of  the  second 
section.  The  tragic  problem  is  set  in  part  one:  in  part  two  it  is 
resolved.  In  this  Passion — Bach*s  supreme  flight  in  the  purely  Ger- 
man manner — the  collaborators  limn  the  Christ  loved  by  the  sim- 
ple Lutheran  congregations,  the  human  being  who  suffered  for 
their  redemption,  rather  than  the  God  incarnate  glorified  in  the 
ultramontane  splendors  of  the  B  minor  Mass. 

The  key  to  the  vastness  of  the  Matthew  Passion  is  Bach's  profound 
conception  of  the  Christ.  In  the  John  Passion  he  made  no  attempt 
to  differentiate  musically  between  the  words  of  Christ  and  those 
of  the  other  actors  in  the  drama;  in  the  Matthew  His  voice  is  dis- 
tinguished from  the  others  by  having  a  string  accompaniment,  one 
that  adds  luminosity  and  warmth  to  the  tonal  color  whenever  He 

BACH  43 

speaks.  Bach's  sensitive  response  to  text  is  evident  in  many  works, 
but  in  the  Matthew  Passion  he  surpassed  himself.  At  no  point  has  he 
failed  the  slightest  promptings  of  the  words;  the  merest  syntactical 
shift  finds  its  counterpart  in  some  subtle  alteration  in  musical  tex- 
ture. Yet  it  is  never  precious  or  oc^rsubtilized:  the  design  persists, 
the  structure  coheres.  If  at  any  moment  Bach  seems  to  clothe  his 
text  too  realistically  (and  it  must  be  admitted  that  the  musical 
cockcrow  strains  the  integrity  of  the  structure),  he  recovers  himself 
immediately  by  some  miraculous  touch. 

The  Matthew  Passion  was  received  with  a  bewilderment  of  which 
one  of  Bach's  pupils  has  left  an  account:  "Some  high  officials  and 
well-born  ladies  in  one  of  the  galleries  began  to  sing  the  first  Choral 
with  great  devotion  from  their  books.  But  as  the  theatrical  music 
proceeded,  they  were  thrown  into  the  greatest  wonderment,  saying 
to  each  other,  'What  does  it  all  mean?3  while  one  old  lady,  a 
widow,  exclaimed,  cGod  help  us!  'tis  surely  an  Opera-comedy!"3 
Such  a  reception,  which  must  have  been  Baches  common  lot  as  a 
composer,  was  not  calculated  to  improve  his  touchy  disposition, 
and  his  wrangling  with  the  authorities  vexed  them  so  that  when 
the  councilors  met  to  appoint  a  new  rector,  one  of  them  expressed 
the  fervent  hope  that  they  would  "fare  better  in  this  appointment 
than  in  that  of  the  cantor."  Their  pent-up  .anger  at  Bach's  grand 
manners  and  arrogant  disregard  of  his  pedagogical  duties  finally 
burst  forth  in  a  threat  to  sequestrate  his  moneys. 

But  if  the  town  fathers  were  fed  up,  so  v/as  Bach.  It  is  certain 
that  by  October,  17,30,  he  was  ready  to  relinquish  the  cantorate 
and  go  elsewhere.  It  is  to  his  straining  at  the  leash  that  we  owe 
the  most  personal  of  his  extant  letters,  written  to  Georg  Erdmann, 
a  childhood  friend  who  was  then  the  Tsarina's  agent  at  Dan- 
zig. "Unfortunately,"  Bach  wrote,  "I  have  discovered  that  (i)  this 
situation  is  not  as  good  as  it  was  represented  to  be,  (2)  various 
accidentia  relative  to  my  station  have  been  withdrawn,  (3)  living  is 
expensive,  and  (4)  my  masters  are  strange  folk  with  very  little  care 
for  music  in  them.  Consequently,  I  am  subjected  to  constant  an- 
noyance, jealousy,  and  persecution.  It  is  therefore  in  my  mind, 
with  God's  assistance,  to  seek  my  fortune  elsewhere.  If  your  Honor 
knows  of  or  should  hear  of  a  convenable  station  in  your  town,  I  beg 
you  to  let  me  have  your  valuable  recommendation.  Nothing  will  be 
wanting  on  my  part  to  give  satisfaction,  show  diligence,  and  justify 

44  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

your  much  esteemed  support.  My  present  station  is  worth  about 
700  kronen  a  year,  and  if  the  death-rate  is  higher  than  ordinaire- 
ment,  my  accidentia  increase  in  proportion:,  but  Leipzig  is  a  healthy 
place,  and  for  the  past  year,  as  it  happens,  I  have  received  about 
100  kronen  less  than  usual  in  funeral  accidentia.  The  cost  of  living, 
too,  is  so  excessive  that  I  was  better  off  in  Thuringia  on  400  kronen." 

After  his  bill  of  complaints,  with  its  pettifogging  note.  Bach 
passes  to  a  newsy  paragraph  about  his  home  life:  "And  now  I  must 
tell  you  something  of  my  domestic  circumstances.  My  first  wife 
died  at  Gothen  and  I  have  married  again.  Of  my  first  marriage 
are  living  three  sons  and  a  daughter,  whom  your  Honor  saw  at 
Weimar  and  may  be  pleased  to  remember.  Of  my  second  marriage 
one  son  and  two  daughters  are  living.  My  eldest  son  is  a  studiosus 
juris,  the  other  two  are  at  school  here  in  the  prima  and  secunda 
classis;  my  eldest  daughter  as  yet  is  unmarried.  My  children  by  my 
second  wife  are  still  young;  the  eldest  boy  is  six.  All  my  children 
are  born  musici;  from  my  ownfamilie,  I  assure  you,  I  can  arrange  a 
concert  vocaliter  and  mstrumentaliter\  my  wife,  in  particular,  has  a 
very  clear  soprano,  and  my  eldest  daughter  can  give  a  good  ac- 
count of  herself  too." 

But  things  cleared  up.  The  bumbling  old  rector,  whose  dotage 
had  been  unequal  to  the  task  of  suppressing  faction,  was  succeeded 
by  a  man  of  very  different  stripe,  Johann  Matthias  Gesner.  A  man 
of  generous  affections  and  wide  taste,  and  himself  a  leader  of  the 
new  humanism  that  was  warming  the  intellectual  currents  of 
eighteenth-century  Germany,  he  immediately  appreciated  Bach, 
and  exerted  his  sympathetic  nature  to  soothe  the  troubled  waters. 
For  nearly  five  years  the  cantor  enjoyed  comparative  calm,  almost 
as  if  he  were  gathering  strength  for  the  bitter  controversies  of  the 
late  thirties. 

In  1729,  Bach  was  appointed  honorary  Kapellmeister  to  his  old 
friend,  Christian  of  Saxe-Weissenfels.  About  this  time,  he  began 
going  frequently  to  Dresden,  ostensibly  to  take  his  favorite  son, 
Wilhelm  Friedemann,  to  the  opera,  but  actually  to  canvass  pos- 
sibilities for  advancement  at  the  Elector's  court.  Here  he  met  the 
now-forgotten,  but  then  world-famous,  Johann  Adolf  Hasse,  and 
his  dazzlingly  lovely  wife,  Faustina.  Hasse  was  Hof kapellmeister .,  and 
divided  the  honors  of  the  royal  opera  with  Faustina,  he  as  com- 
poser, she  as  prima  donna.  It  is  doubtful  that  Hasse  cared  more  for 

BACH  45 

Bach's  compositions  than  the  Thomascantor  did  for  his.  Bach's  at- 
titude toward  opera  in  general  is  summed  up  in  his  "Well,  Friede- 
mann,  shall  we  go  to  Dresden  and  hear  the  pretty  tunes?"  In  1 73 1 , 
when  he  was  there  to  hear  tlit  premiere  of  one  of  Hasse's  operas,  he 
gave  a  recital  at  the  Sophienkirche,  after  which  the  Hofkapell- 
meister  joined  the  chorus  of  those  who  hymned  Bach  as  the  king  of 
organists.  This  recital,  coming  after  seven  years'  retirement  as  an 
organist,  launched  Bach  on  a  new  career  of  trips  to  near-by  towns 
to  "examine  and  display"  organs. 

In  1733,  Augustus  II,  Elector  of  Saxony  and  King  of  Poland, 
passed  to  whatever  reward  comes  to  a  man  who  has  begotten 
three  hundred  and  sixty-five  illegitimate  children.  During  the 
period  of  mourning  decreed  by  the  court,  less  music  was  used  in 
the  churches,  and  Bach's  duties  were  therefore  light.  He  used  his 
leisure  to  concoct  a  Latin  Kyrie  and  Gloria — parts  of  the  Mass 
common  to  the  Roman  and  Lutheran  services — that  might  aptly 
accompany  a  request  to  a  Catholic  sovereign  for  the  office  ofHof- 
compositeur,  a  distinction  that  would  strengthen  his  hand  in  Leipzig. 
Unfortunately,  the  gift  and  petition  found  Augustus  III  immersed 
in  the  troubled  waters  of  Polish  politics,  and  Bach  had  to  wait 
three  years  for  his  appointment.  Although  the  Kyrie  and  Gloria 
seem  never  to  have  been  performed  for  Augustus,  this  did  not  deter 
Bach:  in  five  years  he  welded  them  into  a  structure  so  vast  that  it 
could  never  be  performed  as  part  of  any  church  service.  This  was 
his  supreme  masterpiece. 

The  B  minor  Mass  is  the  greatest  composition  ever  written.  Its 
sustained  sublimity  would  seem  to  predicate  Bach,  the  very  vessel 
of  divine  inspiration,  creating  it  whole  in  one  mighty  surge.  Ac- 
tually, it  was  composed  and  arranged  in  an  amazingly  desultory 
manner.  If,  as  many  believe,  it  was  finished  in  1740,  it  had  taken 
as  long  to  complete  as  The  Last  Judgment.  But  Bach,  unlike  Michel- 
angelo, had  not  been  working  exclusively  on  his  masterpiece:  quite 
literally,  he  did  it  in  his  spare  time.  It  does  not  even  consist  of 
entirely  new  material — though  the  samples  he  had  sent  to  Augus- 
tus III  did:  throughout,  he  borrowed  copiously  from  himself.  Of 
the  twenty-six  divisions  of  the  Mass,  several  are  adaptations  from 
sacred  cantatas,  and  at  least  one  had  its  ultimate  source  in  an 
unquestionably  secular  piece.  Naturally,  a  work  put  together  in 
this  fashion  does  not  have  the  same  kind  of  unity  as  a  Mozart 

46  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

symphony  or  a  Beethoven  quartet  But  it  is  doubtful  whether  the 
conglomerate  text  of  a  Mass  demands  this  kind  of  unity.  What  holds 
the  B  minor  together,,  and  gives  the  impression  of  a  unifying  de- 
sign, is  its  consistently  Bachian  character. 

The  Mass  opens  with  a  five-part  fugue,  126  bars  long,  whose 
severe  and  uncompromising  woefulness  prepares  the  least  aware 
for  this  fearsome  journey  into  a  new  musical  world.  The  very  form 
of  this  Kyrie  sets  it  apart  from  the  intimate  German  utterances  of 
the  cantatas  and  Passions:  we  hear  once  again,  after  more  than  a 
century,  the  accents  of  Palestrina.  Luther  suddenly  recedes  into 
the  remote  distance,  and  the  vast,  impersonal  voice  of  Rome  is 
heard.  As  the  huge  liturgical  machine  gets  under  way,,  Spitta  says, 
"The  solo  songs  stand  among  the  choruses  like  isolated  valleys  be- 
tween gigantic  heights,  serving  to  relieve  the  eye  that  tries  to  take 
in  the  whole,  composition."  Bach  moves  among  the  complexities 
of  the  text  with  perfect  ease,,  and  even  at  that  part  of  the  Credo 
where  the  Nicene  Fathers  fell  into  doggerel  keeps  to  the  lofty  plane. 
And  when  the  text  itself  is  most  dramatic,  as  in  the  Resurrexit,  when 
the  tragic  despair  of  the  Crueifiws  is  dissipated  in  an  outburst  of 
ecstatic  joy,  Bach  creates  page  after  page  of  a  majestic  intensity 
unequaled  in  music. 

The  history  of  the  B  minor  Mass  is  unique.  Never  given  in  its 
entirety  during  Bach's,  lifetime,  it  did  not  have  its  first  complete 
performance  until  well  into  the  nineteenth  century.  Today  it  is  the 
most  famous,  and  possibly  the  most  popular,  of  Ms  larger  com- 
positions. Bach  Societies  everywhere  devote  much  of  their  time 
and  energy  to  "working  up"  the  B  minor>  most  often  with  in- 
different success.  The  Bach  Festival,  at  Bethlehem,  Pennsylvania, 
annually  presents  it  with  pious  attention  to  detail;  it  attracts  ca- 
pacity audiences  from,  all  over  the  world. 

In  glaring  contrast  to  the  ever-growing  popularity  of  the  Mass 
is  the  unworthy  fate  of  the  vast  majority  of  Bach's  vocal  works.  Of 
more  than  two  hundred  cantatas,  as-  well  as  a  considerable  mis- 
cellany of  pieces  going  under  other  names,  but  few  have  been 
performed  in  the  United  States.  Yet  these,  far  more  than  the  Pas- 
sions and  the  B  minor  Mass,  represent  the  intimate  side  of  Bach's 
creative  nature;  not  only  did  he  earn  his  daily  bread  by  composing 
them  (sometimes  at  the  rate  of  one  a  week),  but  they  were  them- 
selves the  bread  of  life  to  him,  based  as  they  are  on  those  simple 

BACH  47 

Lutheran  hymn  tunes  that  were  his  first  musical  loves.  The  can- 
tatas, too,  rather  than  the  Passions  and  the  great  Mass,  give  us  the 
most  varied  and  nearly  complete  picture  of  Bach  as  a  vocal  writer. 
They  were  composed  for  every  Sunday  and  great  feast  of  the 
church  year,  and  range  from  the  most  solemn  and  poignant  lamen- 
tations to  canticles  of  pure  joy.  Some  are  mystical  and  contempla- 
tive, others  so  dramatic  that  they  lack  only  action  to  be  operas. 

Those  few  cantatas  that  have  been  made  accessible  through 
occasional  performances,  transcriptions,  and  recordings  are  mas- 
terpieces in  small.  The  Easter  cantata,  Christ  lag  in  Totesbanden,  is 
a  stark  frenzied  commentary  on  the  death  sacrifice  of  the  Son  of 
God.  In  Em  feste  Burg,  Bach,,  with  the  foursquare  Gospel  in  his 
hand,  thunders  forth  his  simple  German  credo.  And  in  portions  of 
W&chet  auf  the  music  reaches  such  passionate  heights  that  it  has 
been  called  the  greatest  love  music  before  Tristan  und  Isolde.  The 
choice  of  the  cantatas  performed  lias  admittedly  been  fortuitous: 
there  is  every  reason  to  believe  that  the  untapped  remainder  is  an 
inexhaustible  supply  of  great  musk*  One  of  the  reasons  heard  most 
frequently  for  not  giving  these  works  is  that  Bach  did  not  know 
how  to  write  for  the  voice.  This  is  merely  an  excuse  for  singers  too 
lazy  to  learn  more  than  the  bare  fundamentals  of  their  craft.  Some 
difficulties  arise  from  the  fact  that  notes  now  represent  a  much 
higher  pitch  than  they  did  in  Bach's  day.  Even  allowing  for  this,  his 
vocal  music  at  its  most  complex  is  not  unsingable;  rather,  it  is  the 
most  rewarding  a  conscientious  singer  can  hope  for,  as  it  exploits 
the  fullest  resources  of  the  human  voice. 

Only  twenty-four  of  the  cantatas  are  written  to  secular  texts, 
and  even  many  of  these  are  predominantly  religious  in  feeEng.  But 
in  a  few  of  them  Bach  shows  a  refreshingly  topical  slant.  The 
"Coffee"  Cantata  satirizes  a  Leipzig  that,  when  coffee  was  still  a 
fad  of  the  wealthy,  boasted  eight  licensed  coffeehouses.  Dm  Streit 
zwischen  Phoebus  und  Pan  strikes  a  more  personal  note  because  of  its 
connection  with  Johann  Adolf  Scheibe,  a  voluminous  composer 
and  criticaster  Bach  had  blackballed  for  a  job,  and  who  took  his 
revenge  by  indicting  the  bases  of  ins  enemy's  musical  style.  Bach, 
in  lampooning  Scheibe  as  Midas,  got  back  at  him  much  as  Wagner 
was  to  scuttle  his  enemies  in  Lie  Meistersinger.  Scheibe,  however, 
probably  reflected  the  bafflement  of  even  the  more  cultured  among 
Bach's  audience  when  exposed  to  his  complex  style. 

48  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

"This  great  man,"  Scheibe  wrote,  after  the  conventional  tribute 
to  Bach's  prowess  at  the  organ,  "would  be  the  wonder  of  the  uni- 
verse if  his  compositions  displayed  more  agreeable  qualities,  were 
less  turgid  and  sophisticated,  more  simple  and  natural  in  charac- 
ter. His  music  is  exceedingly  difficult  to  play,  because  the  efficiency 
of  his  own  limbs  sets  his  standard;  he  expects  singers  and  players 
to  be  as  agile  with  voice  and  instrument  as  he  is  with  his  fingers, 
which  is  impossible.  Grace  notes  and  embellishments,  such  as  a 
player  instinctively  supplies,  he  puts  down  in  actual  symbols,  a 
habit  which  not  only  sacrifices  the  harmonic  beauty  of  his  music 
but  also  blurs  its  melodic  line.  All  his  parts,  too,  are  equally  me- 
lodic, so  that  one  cannot  distinguish  the  principal  tune  among 
them.  In  short,  he  is  as  a  musician  what  Herr  von  Lohenstein* 
used  to  be  as  a  poet:  pomposity  diverts  them  both  from  a  natural 
to  an  artificial  style,  changing  what  might  have  been  sublime  into 
the  obscure.  In  regard  to  both  of  them,  we  wonder  at  an  effort  so 
labored,  and,  since  nothing  comes  of  it,  so  futile.5* 

As  Bach,  reviving  Phoebus  und  Pan  in  1749,  satirized  a  new  ad- 
versary as  Midas,  it  is  probable  that  he  became  reconciled  with 
Scheibe.  Less  happy  was  the  outcome  of  a  long  and  bitter  contro- 
versy with  Gesner's  successor  as  rector  of  the  Thomasschule,  Johann 
August  Ernesti.  Although  his  reputation  as  a  classical  scholar  has 
justly  dwindled,  there  is  no  doubt  that  Ernesti  stood  forth  as  one 
of  the  leaders  in  the  movement  to  free  institutions  of  learning,  as 
Charles  Sanford  Terry  says,  "from  the  standards  of  the  age  in 
which  they  originated,  from  the  classical  trammels  of  the  Renais- 
sance, and  the  theological  bonds  of  the  Reformation.  .  .  ."  As 
Ernesti  naturally  tried  to  shift  the  Thomasschule's  emphasis  from 
music  to  a  general  curriculum,  his  activity  conflicted  with  the 
cantor's  personal  interests.  Bach  was  unconsciously  shunted  into 
the  position  of  a  pigheaded  opponent  of  the  Zeitgeist,  for,  after  sift- 
ing all  the  petty  details  of  this  dreary  tug  of  war,  it  is  clear  that  the 
equally  pigheaded  Ernesti  was  on  the  side  of  progress.  After  keep- 
ing the  rector,  the  cantor,  the  students,  and  sundry  town  busy- 
bodies  in  an  uproar  for  several  years,  the  struggle  seems  to  have 
died  of  sheer  inanition.  Or  perhaps  Bach's  appointment  as  Hof* 
compositeur  in  1736  salved  his  injured  feelings,  and  made  his  ad- 

*  D.  C.  von  Lohenstein  (1665-1684)  wrote  numerous  wooden  dramas. 

BACH  49 

versaries  feel  that  they  had  best  not  proceed  farther  against  so 
lofty  a  personage. 

Augustus  III  asked  Baron  Karl  von  Kayserling  to  deliver  the 
long-delayed  appointment  to  the  composer.  This  envoy's  insomnia 
called  forth  one  of  Bach's  most  delightful  clavier  works.  Kayserling^ 
a  man  of  culture,  kept  a  private  musician  named  Goldberg,  a  pupil 
of  Bach  and  his  son  Friedemann.  For  this  David,  whose  chief 
duty  was  to  relieve  his  wakeful  hours  with  cheerful  melodies,  the 
amiable  Saul  commissioned  Bach  to  supply  a  new  musical  balm, 
and  the  result  has  been  known  ever  since  as  the  "Goldberg"  Varia- 
tions. They  doubtless  performed  their  work  well,  and  Kayserling 
affectionately  referred  to  them  as  "my  variations."  He  paid  off 
like  a  true  grandee,  sending  Bach  one  hundred  louis  d'or  ia  a 
golden  goblet.  The  insinuating  and  delicious  suite  has  had  a 
notable  progeny,  for  from  it  stem  the  tremendous  "Eroica"  and 
"Diabelli"  Variations  of  Beethoven  and,  less  directly,  Brahms9 
achievements  in  the  form. 

In  giving  the  title  of  Hofcompositeur  to  Bach,  Augustus  III  had 
set  the  official  seal  on  a  creative  faculty  that  was  well-nigh  spent. 
In  1736  the  master  still  had  fourteen  years  to  live,  but  aside  from 
a  mere  handful  of  cantatas  and  a  few  finishing  touches  on  the  B 
minor  Mass,  his  vocal  work  was  behind  him.  The  Dresden  ap- 
pointment was  far  from  an  empty  honor:  it  involved  frequent 
attendance  at  court  on  ceremonial  occasions.  Bach  was  often  away 
playing  and  testing  organs.  In  his  spare  time  he  was  editing  and 
arranging  his  works,  preparing  for  death  by  putting  his  remains  in 
order,  as  great  men  often  do.  He  paused  from  his  labors  in  1 744 
to  complete  the  second  part  of  The  Well-Tempered  Clavichord,  which 
had  been  composed  as  study  pieces  for  his  second  family  just  as 
the  first  part  had  been  written  for  his  elder  children. 

The  widespread  ramifications  of  his  first  family,  as  well  as  the 
educational  needs  of  his  second,  now  took  up  more  and  more  of 
Bach's  time.  Wilhelm  Friedemann,  first  at  Dresden  and  then  at 
Halle,  seemed  to  be  starting  the  brilliant  career  his  doting  father 
hoped  for  him  (mercifully  he  managed  to  check  until  after  the  old 
man's  death  an  un-Bachian  talent  for  loose  living  that  finally 
wrecked  his  life) .  Johann  Gottfried  Bernhard  was  less  considerate. 
After  running  out  on  his  organist's  job — and  numerous  debts — he 
disappeared,  and  when  next  heard  of  had  died  of  fever.  Karl 

50  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Philipp  Emanuel,  though  less  endowed  with  native  genius  than 
Wilhelm  Friedemann,  had  inherited  his  father's  steadfast  charac- 
ter, and  at  an  early  age  was  on  the  way  to  becoming  the  most  dis- 
tinguished musician  of  his  generation. 

In  1 740  Karl  Philipp  Emanuel,  though  technically  a  Saxon  sub- 
ject, accepted  a  post  at  the  court  of  Frederick  the  Great,  who  was 
about  to  launch  an  attack  on  Augustus  III,  Austria's  ally.  He  was 
on  excellent  terms  with  the  flute-playing  King,  whom  he  often 
accompanied,  and  was  promoted  in  1 746  to  the  position  of  Kam- 
mermusikus.  When  EmanuePs  first  son  was  born,  Bach  doubtless 
would  have  gone  to  Berlin  to  attend  the  christening  had  not  Fred- 
erick chosen  that  very  month — November,  1745 — for  investing 
Leipzig.  Bach  had  to  wait  two  years  to  see  his  first  grandson.  Tak- 
ing Wilhelm  Friedemann  with  him,  he  set  out  for  the  Prussian 
capital.  Emanuel,  who  was  proud  of  his  father,  knew  the  music- 
loving  sovereign  would  appreciate  Bach's  playing,  and  informed 
the  King  that  he  was  coming. 

When  told  of  Bach's  arrival  in  Potsdam,  Frederick  was  just  sit- 
ting down  to  participate  in  his  usual  evening  concert.  He  rose 
excitedly,  and  exclaimed,  "Gentlemen,  old  Bach  is  here!"  Com- 
manded to  join  the  King  at  once,  Bach  appeared  in  his  traveling 
clothes.  Frederick  greeted  him  warmly,  high-flown  compliments 
were  exchanged,  and  the  old  cantor  was  brought  face  to  face  with 
an  instrument  he  had  never  seen  before — a  piano.  He  immediately 
sat  down  and  improvised  fugally  on  a  theme  that  the  King  gave 
him  there  and  then.  He  disliked  the  instrument,  but  gave  so  mag- 
nificent a  performance  that  Frederick  invited  him  to  return  the 
next  day,  give  an  organ  recital,  and  again  attend  him  in  the 

Back  in  Leipzig,  prompted  both  by  his  admiration  of  the  King's 
theme  and  his  eagerness  to  advance  EmanuePs  fortunes  by  a  dip- 
lomatic stroke,  Bach  composed  a  musical  gift  for  Frederick.  Using 
the  theme  as  the  basis  of  several  complicated  fugues  and  canons, 
and  adding  a  grateful  flute  part,  Bach  devised  the  so-called  Musika- 
lisches  Opfer,  had  it  engraved,  and  sent  the  first  sections  to  Potsdam 
with  an  unusually  flowery  letter  of  dedication.  It  is  problematical 
whether  Frederick,  who  collected  great  men  as  an  entomologist 
collects  specimens,  quite  realized  that  he  was  crowning  the  mortal 
career  of  the  greatest  of  all  composers. 

BACH  51 

Bach  did  not  forget  the  Kong's  theme.  It  haunted  his  mind,  and 
he  finally  arrived  at  the  idea  of  using  a  condensed  version  of  it  as 
a  guinea  pig  to  be  subjected  to  every  possible  contrapuntal  opera- 
tion. He  called  these  experiments  simply  "counterpoints/5  and 
there  is  not  a  scrap  of  evidence  that  he  ever  intended  them  to  be 
played.  He  did  not  even  specify  the  medium  for  which  they  were 
intended — if,  indeed,  they  were  intended  for  anything  more  than 
object  lessons.  But  his  editors  got  hold  of  these  "counterpoints/* 
as  well  as  some  fragments  that  have  no  earthly  connection  with 
them,  and  published  the  odd  assortment  as  Die  Kunst  der  Fuge.  It 
has  been  adapted  for  solo  piano,  for  two  pianos,  for  string  quartet, 
for  orchestra.  And  it  has  been  selected  by  Bach  cultists  as  the  very 
ark  of  their  covenant  with  an  esoteric  Johann  Sebastian  of  then- 
own  imagining. 

Heading  those  amused  at  this  sanctification  of  the  c  "counter- 
points" would  undoubtedly  be  Bach  himself.  The  truth  is  that 
most  of  these  diabolically  clever  solutions  of  contrapuntal  puzzles 
are  thankless  in  performance,  while  the  few  with  real  musical  ap- 
pea]  do  not  sufficiently  relieve  the  crushing  tedium  of  listening  to 
Die  Kunst  der  Fuge  as  a  whole.  The  less  extravagant  fugues  rank 
with  the  best  in  The  Well-Tempered  Clavichord,  but  they  are  not 
enhanced  by  being  played  with  others  of  which  Parry  said,  "Bach 
possibly  wrote  them  just  to  see  if  it  could  be  done;  he  certainly 
would  not  have  classed  them  as  musical  works  unless  as  extremely 
abstruse  jokes.55 

The  fact  that  Die  Kunst  der  Fuge  breaks  off  abruptly— in  a  fugue 
on  the  notes  B  A  C  H  (B  is  B  flat,  H  is  B  natural  in  German  nota- 
tion)— tells  dramatically  the  failure  of  Bach's  health.  Whether  he 
became  blind  at  this  point,  or,  what  is  more  likely,  suffered  a 
paralytic  stroke,  is  not  known.  The  certain  facts  are  that  by  the 
summer  of  1749  he  was  so  incapacitated  that  there  was  talk  of  ap- 
pointing his  successor  as  Stadtcantor,  and  that  in  January  of  the  fol- 
lowing year  he  entrusted  his  tired  eyes  to  the  knife  of  the  "Chev- 
alier John  Taylor,  Opthalmiater.55  It  is  difficult  to  say  whether 
Taylor  was  a  quack  or  was  consistently  called  in  too  late,  but  his 
principal  claim  to  fame  is  that  he  operated  with  varying  degrees  of 
unsuccess  on  three  of  the  greatest  men  of  the  eighteenth  century — 
Bach,  Handel,  and  Gibbon. 

On  July  1 8,  after  six  months  of  darkness  prescribed  by  Taylor 

52  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

as  a  postoperative  requisite,  during  which  Bach  chafed  at  the  in- 
activity and  reacted  poorly  to  the  dosage,  he  definitely  rallied.  It 
was  then  decided  to  admit  light  into  the  sickroom,  and  test  his 
sight.  He  could  distinguish  objects  in  the  room  and  the  faces  of 
his  anxious  family.  But  the  excitement  was  too  much  for  him:  a 
few  hours  later  he  had  a  stroke.  For  ten  days  he  lay  unconscious 
and  in  a  raging  fever.  Toward  evening,  on  July  28,  1750,  he  died. 
Before  his  burial,  three  days  later,  the  town  councilors  had  ap- 
pointed his  successor  at  the  Thomasschule. 

At  the  time  of  his  death,  Bach  was  known  throughout  Germany, 
but  as  his  fame  was  chiefly  that  of  an  organ  virtuoso,  it  did  not 
endure  into  an  age  when  the  organ  ceased  to  dominate  music.  He 
was  soon  forgotten  by  everyone  except  his  family  and  a  few  of  his 
pupils.  His  small  estate,  consisting  mainly  of  musical  instruments, 
theological  tomes,  and  household  furnishings,  did  not  suffice  to 
maintain  his  widow  and  four  children  who  were  still  minors.  Four 
of  his  grown  children  seem  not  to  have  lifted  a  finger  to  help  Anna 
Magdalena.  Karl  Philipp  Emanuel  was  the  sole  exception:  he  took 
the  youthful  Johann  Christian  to  live  with  him,  and  helped  to 
form  that  facile  talent  which  later  made  "the  English  Bach"  Lon- 
don's most  popular  composer  of  Italianate  opera.  Anna  Magdalena 
survived  her  husband  for  ten  years,  and  died  in  the  poorhouse.  The 
site  of  Bach's  grave  was  lost  for  almost  a  hundred  years,  and  his 
body  was  recovered  late  in  the  nineteenth  century  only  by  a  clever 
piecing  together  of  records.  The  inscription  that  now  marks  his 
sepulture  is  even  more  stark  than  that  on  Palestrina's: 


Chapter  Til 

George  Frideric  Handel 

(Halle,  February  23,  i685~April  14,  1759,  London) 

TTIXCEPT  for  the  fact  that  Handel  and  Bach  were  born  only  a 
JLJ  month  apart,  and  both  in  Saxony,  they  had  nothing  in  com- 
mon but  genius.  Bach  was  a  small-town  musician  who  devoted  his 
unsurpassed  gifts  mainly  to  the  service  of  the  church;  Handel  wrote 
for  a  metropolitan  audience,  and  spent  most  of  his  life  in  the 
world's  largest  city.  If  he  was  not  precisely  obscure,  Bach's  fame 
was  limited  to  Germany  except  among  professional  musicians; 
Handel  was  for  many  years  the  most  celebrated  composer  alive. 
Time  has  commented  ironically  on  this  situation.  The  fame  of  the 
Thomascantor  keeps  growing,  and  shows  no  sign  of  slackening  this 
side  of  deification,  but  the  great  god  of  the  eighteenth  century  has 
fallen  from  his  pedestal.  The  stricken  deity  lies  neglected  while  the 
world  comes  perilously  near  to  overrating  Bach — if  such  a  thing  is 
possible.  We  hear  little  of  the  greater  Handel,  and  too  much  of 
that  little  in  bad  superproductions  of  Messiah. 

George  Frideric  Handel,*  unquestionably  one  of  the  greatest 
musicians  the  world  has  ever  known,  was  born  at  Halle  on  Febru- 
ary 23,  1685.  His  father,  Georg  Handel,  was  a  rich  barber-surgeon, 
and  one  of  the  town's  leading  citizens.  At  the  age  of  sixty-one  he 
married  as  his  second  wife  a  clergyman's  daughter,  and  George 
Frideric  was  the  first  surviving  child  of  this  union  of  highly  re- 
spected and  thoroughly  mediocre  parents,  in  whose  veins  flowed 
not  a  single  drop  of  musical  blood.  The  old  barber-surgeon  was  not 
only  unmusical — he  had  an  aversion  to  musicians,  and  was  deter- 
mined that  his  son  should  become  a  lawyer.  Nevertheless,  a  relent- 
less artistic  urge  drove  the  child  to  find  an  outlet  for  his  musical 
cravings,  and  in  some  way  (just  how,  nobody  knows)  he  learned  to 
play  the  organ  and  the  clavier.  When  he  was  seven  years  old,  his 
father,  who  was  court  surgeon  at  Weissenfels,  took  him  there  on  a 
visit.  He  played  the  organ  for  the  Duke,  who  was  so  delighted  at 
the  lad's  obvious  talent  that  he  advised  his  amazed  and  nettled 
surgeon  to  get  the  boy  a  music  teacher. 

*  The  form  in  which,  from  1719  to  his  death,  he  himself  signed  his  name. 


54  MEN   OF  MUSIC 

At  Halle  they  found  the  very  man — Friedrich  Wilhelm  Zachau, 
organist  of  the  Liebfrauenkirche.  Romain  Holland,  a  close  student 
of  seventeenth-  and  eighteenth-century  music,  testifies  to  the  tal- 
ents of  this  forgotten  musician.  From  the  first,  the  relations  be- 
tween master  and  pupil  were  of  the  warmest.  Zachau  instantly 
recognized  the  child's  gifts,  and  lavished  the  greatest  care  on  train- 
ing him  as  both  instrumentalist  and  composer.  But  his  most  valu- 
able service  to  Handel,  as  it  turned  out,  was  introducing  him  to 
the  music  of  other  lands,  particularly  Italy.  While  studying  with 
Zachau,  Handel  :eems  to  have  begun  composing  with  the  un- 
stinted fluency  he  never  lost.  When  the  brilliant  pupil  needed  re- 
freshment, a  visit  to  Berlin  was  arranged.  The  eleven-year-old  boy 
apparently  made  this  considerable  journey  alone,  and  was  received 
cordially  at  court,  which  was  enjoying  a  flicker  of  brilliance  under 
the  dashing  leadership  of  the  Electress  Sophia.  Evidently  Handel 
had  influential  sponsors,  for  he  was  commanded  to  play  before 
their  Electoral  Highnesses.  They  were  so  impressed  by  his  pyro- 
technics at  the  clavier  that  the  Elector  offered  to  send  him  to  Italy 
for  further  study.  But  Georg  Handel  was  enraged  by  the  idea,  and 
ordered  his  son's  immediate  return  to  Halle.  Probably  while  on 
the  way  home,  the  lad  was  overtaken  by  news  of  his  father's  death 
on  February  n,  1697. 

Five  years  later,  after  preparatory  studies,  Handel  entered  the 
University  of  Halle  as  a  law  student,  in  deference  to  his  father's 
wishes.  Thereafter  he  did  not  strain  his  filial  piety:  a  month  after 
matriculating,  he  accepted  a  temporary  appointment  as  organist 
at  the  Domkirche.  Only  a  recognition  of  his  extraordinary  gifts 
could  have  persuaded  the  tight-lipped  Calvinists  to  give  this  re- 
sponsible position  to  a  seventeen-year-old  college  boy  not  of  their 
faith.  The  youthful  Georg  Philipp  Telemann,  even  in  1702  well  on 
the  way  to  becoming  the  most  prolific  of  composers,  passed  through 
Halle  about  this  time,  and  wrote  a  eulogy  of  the  "already  famous 
Handel."  It  was  on  the  cards  that  his  native  town  could  not  long 
hold  this  prodigious  boy.  In  1 703,  probably  after  consulting  Zachau, 
he  responded  to  the  lure  of  Hamburg,  the  capital  of  German  opera. 

The  musical  tsar  of  this  busy  seaport  was  the  notorious  Reinhard 
Keiser,  then  at  the  height  of  a  variegated  career.  Handel  naturally 
gravitated  to  Reiser's  opera  house,  where  he  was  soon  playing  the 
violin  and  imbibing  the  fecund  ideas  and  lyric  melodies  of  this 


vest-pocket  Mozart.  It  is  probable  that  Handel's  relations  with 
Keiser  were  on  a  rather  formal  basis,  but  he  found  a  warm  though 
capricious  friend  in  Johann  Mattheson,  another  law  student  who 
had  turned  to  music.  A  man  of  wide  versatility,  Mattheson  sang, 
composed,  and  conducted.  When  deafness  caused  him  to  abandon 
these  activities,  he  turned  to  writing,  and  left  behind  him  more 
than  eighty  books  containing  invaluable  source  material  about  the 
music  of  his  epoch,  as  well  as  contributions  to  musical  theory  that 
are  still  significant. 

Handel  and  Mattheson  had  much  to  offer  each  other,  and  their 
common  youth  made  interchange  easy.  Handel  was  eager  to  know 
all  about  the  workings  of  an  opera  house  bulwarked  by  a  quarter 
century  of  brilliant  achievement.  Mattheson,  who  had  already  had 
an  opera  produced,  willingly  played  the  city  mentor  to  the  new- 
comer, whose  genius  he  immediately — and  enviously — sensed. 
They  became  inseparable,  and  when  Mattheson  went  to  Liibeck 
to  try  out  as  Buxtehude's  successor  at  the  Maiienkirche,  Handel 
accompanied  him.  When  they  heard  that  the  new  organist  was 
required  to  marry  Buxtehude's  daughter,  they  took  one  look  at  the 
Fr'dulein,  and  then  did  what  Bach  is  said  to  have  done  a  few  years 
later — ran  as  fast  as  they  could. 

Mattheson' s  Cleopatra,  produced  sumptuously  in  1704,  caused  a 
stir  quite  out  of  proportion  to  its  musical  worth:  it  was  such  a 
popular  success  that  Keiser's  star  temporarily  waned.  Mattheson, 
who  fancied  himself  declaiming  the  romantic  lines  of  Antony,  in- 
stalled Handel  in  the  conductor's  place  at  the  clavier,  and  himself 
resumed  the  conducting  only  after  dying  on  the  stage.  One  day, 
Handel,  no  longer  able  to  brook  Mattheson's  overweening  vanity, 
refused  to  relinquish  his  place.  Violent  words  and  fisticuffs  were 
exchanged,  and  the  audience  fanned  the  flames  by  taking  sides  in 
a  lusty  Hamburger  fashion.  After  the  curtain  was  rung  down,  the 
erstwhile  friends,  followed  by  the  enthusiastic  audience,  repaired 
to  the  Gansemarkt,  and  fell  to  with  their  swords.  Numberless  mil- 
lions might  have  been  deprived  of  the  "Hallelujah"  Chorus  and 
the  "Largo"  had  not  Mattheson's  sword  shattered  against  a  but- 
ton on  Handel's  coat.  This  anticlimax  seems  to  have  stopped  the 
actual  fighting.  After  a  sullen  truce  of  some  weeks,  they  were 
reconciled,  and  with  a  gala  celebration  began  the  rehearsals  of 
Handel's  first  opera. 

56  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Almira,  which  had  its  premiere  on  January  8,  1705,  with  Matthe- 
son  as  first  tenor,  was  notable  for  the  splendor  of  its  sets.  Although 
written  to  an  absurd  and  bombastic  libretto,  it  had  many  dramatic 
high  spots  which  Handel  had  treated  with  delightful  freshness  and 
the  sure  touch  of  a  born  writer  for  the  stage.  It  was  a  smash  hit,  ran 
for  almost  seven  weeks,  and  was  retired  only  because  Handel 
wished  to  mount  his  second  opera,  Nero.*  Keiser,  who  had  turned 
the  book  ofAlmira  over  to  Handel  because  he  was  too  lazy  to  write 
music  for  it  himself,  was  enraged  by  the  success  of  the  parvenu.  He 
and  his  cronies  set  about  to  destroy  the  one  man  who  could  have 
rehabilitated  the  tottering  fortunes  of  their  opera  house,  and  suc- 
ceeded in  driving  him  from  Hamburg. 

Not  that  he  would  have  remained,  anyway.  His  somewhat 
languid  interest  in  Italy  had  been  whetted  by  a  meeting  with 
Giovan  Gastone  de'  Medici,  the  dissolute  but  music-loving  tag  end 
of  the  once  illustrious  Florentine  family.  Only  one  thing  could 
have  induced  this  gay  prince  to  linger  in  murky,  bourgeois  Ham- 
burg— the  opera.  Much  taken  by  Handel's  talents  and  personal- 
ity, he  tried  to  persuade  him  to  migrate  south.  But  the  young  com- 
poser did  not  act  upon  this  urging  until  the  machinations  of  his 
enemies  and  the  decline  of  the  opera  house  made  him  realize  that 
Hamburg  was  no  longer  the  best  arena  for  his  efforts.  So,  some- 
time before  the  Christmas  of  1 706,  he  decided  to  stake  all  on  an 
Italian  hegira.  He  set  out  armed  with  a  paltry  two  hundred  ducats 
and  a  letter  to  Giovan  Gastone's  brother  Ferdinand. 

Stopping  in  Florence  merely  long  enough  to  pay  his  respects  to 
the  Medici,  compose  twenty  cantatas,  rewrite  part  ofAlmira,  and 
begin  a  new  opera,  Handel  posted  to  Rome,  doubtless  pondering 
the  stinginess  of  Ferdinand,  who  had  once  answered  Alessandro 
Scarlatti's  plea  for  a  loan  by  saying,  "I  will  pray  for  you."  The 
Holy  City,  where  opera  was  under  a  papal  ban,  was  little  more 
generous,  and  Handel  was  soon  back  in  Florence  with  the  com- 
pleted score  of  his  new  opera,  Rodrigo.  Ferdinand,  who  had  tired  of 
Scarlatti's  learned  and  melancholy  music,  sponsored  its  production, 
-and  so  enthusiastic  was  he  over  this  lighthearted  work  that  he 
Joosed  his  purse  strings,  and  presented  its  composer  with  fifty 
pounds  and  a  set  of  dishes.  Having  successfully  set  an  Italian  text 
and  mastered  the  flowing  Italian  vocal  style,  Handel  turned  his 

*  Love  Obtained  Through  Blood  and  Murder,  or  Nero,  ran  for  three  nights. 


thoughts  to  Venice,  still  lit  by  the  late  sun  of  the  Renaissance. 
Here,  in  1637,  had  been  built  the  first  public  opera  house,  and  it 
was  still  the  most  opera-loving  city  in  the  world. 

But  Venice  turned  a  cold  shoulder  to  Handel's  hopes.  The  doors 
of  its  fifteen  opera  houses  remained  shut  against  him,  though  high 
society  lionized  him  as  a  virtuoso.  Alessandro  Scarlatti's  son 
Domenico,  destined  to  revolutionize  the  bases  of  keyboard  style, 
and  to  eclipse  the  fame  of  a  father  deified  by  the  connoisseurs  of 
the  eighteenth  century,  first  heard  Handel  at  a  costume  ball.  After 
listening  spellbound  to  the  masked  performer,  he  exclaimed,  "That 
must  either  be  the  famous  Saxon  or  the  Devil!"  The  friendship  thus 
warmly  inaugurated  endured  for  many  years.  But  of  decisive  im- 
portance in  shaping  Handel's  career  were  encounters  with  Prince 
Ernst  Augustus  of  Hanover  and  the  English  envoy  to  Venice,  the 
Duke  of  Manchester.  The  former  engineered  Handel's  appoint- 
ment as  Kapellmeister  to  his  brother,,  the  Elector  of  Hanover,  later 
George  I  of  England.  Manchester  pressed  him  to  seek  his  fortune  in 
England,  and  promised  to  help  him  when  he  got  there. 

Handel  did  not  take  advantage  of  these  invitations  immediately. 
Instead,  he  traveled  southward  with  Domenico  Scarlatti,  and  once 
again  laid  siege  to  the  papal  capital.  Glowing  reports  of  the  high 
excellences  ofRodrigo  had  preceded  him,  and  this  time  the  Roman 
nobles  vied  with  each  other  for  the  honor  of  entertaining  him.  The 
Arcadian  Academy,  a  society  of  a  few  artists  and  many  dilettantes, 
feted  the  dashing  Saxon,  and  two  of  its  most  lavish  patrons  were 
his  hosts.  Prince  Ruspoli  built  a  private  theater  in  his  palace  for  the 
premiere  of  Handel's  first  oratorio,  La  Resumzione,  which  was  really 
an  opera  disguised  to  evade  the  papal  ban.  Its  overwhelming  suc- 
cess set  all  Rome  talking,  and  Handel  was  prompted  to  try  his 
hand  at  another  oratorio.  But  though  produced  under  the  even 
more  distinguished  patronage  of  Cardinal  Ottobuoni,  nephew  of  a 
Pope,  and  furnished  with  a  libretto  by  another  cardinal,  II  Trionfo 
del  tempo  e  del  dmnganno  fell  flat,  partly  because  the  music  was  too 
difficult  for  the  orchestra  assembled  by  the  renowned  Corelli, 
Ottobuoni's  concertmaster.  The  work  haunted  Handel's  imagina* 
tion,  and,  almost  fifty  years  later  his  last  oratorio  was  called  The 
Triumph  of  Time  and  Design, 

Ever  on  the  search  for  preferment  and  sympathetic  understand- 
ing of  his  music,  Handel  now  drifted  to  Naples,  where  the  story  of 

58  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

social  success  and  lack  of  solid  opportunity  was  repeated.  For  a 
time  this  child  of  the  North  surrendered  to  the  lure  of  the  southern 
paradise,  storing  his  phenomenal  memory  with  its  catchy  folk 
tunes.  But  the  only  ponderable  result  of  a  year's  stay  developed 
from  a  meeting  with  Cardinal  Grimani,  the  Imperial  Viceroy. 
This  cultivated  scion  of  a  princely  Venetian  family  gave  him  the 
libretto  for  his  next  opera.,  Agrippina,  and  laid  plans  for  its  produc- 
tion at  the  theater  the  Grimani  controlled  in  Venice.  The  cer- 
tainty of  a  public  performance  under  such  propitious  circum- 
stances roused  Handel  from  his  languor,  and  in  three  weeks  he  had 
completed  the  score.  With  the  precious  manuscript  in  his  traveling 
bags,  he  returned  to  Rome,  and  lingered  there  until  time  for  the 
new  opera  to  go  into  rehearsal. 

On  December  26,  1709,  Agrippina  began  a  spectacular  run  of 
twenty-seven  nights  at  the  theater  of  San  Giovanni  Crisostomo. 
It  was,  beyond  question,  the  best  opera  Handel  had  yet  written, 
and  as  Venetian  approval  was  the  touchstone  of  musical  success, 
his  Italian  reputation  was  made.  The  echoes  of  the  frantic  applause 
carried  Handel's  name  across  Italy  and  throughout  Europe,  and 
in  Venice  itself  he  was  more  important  than  the  Doge.  He  had 
justified  his  rash  invasion  of  Italy,  which  now  lay  prostrate  at  his 
feet.  But  he  had  no  settled  future,  and  while  he  was  pondering  the 
next  step  Prince  Ernst  Augustus  of  Hanover  intervened.  Night 
after  night  this  already  stanch  Handelian  had  sat  entranced  in  the 
royal  loge  at  the  Crisostomo.  The  manifold  beauties  of  Agrippina 
convinced  him  more  than  ever  that  Handel  was  the  man  for  his 
brother's  court.  He  urgently  renewed  his  invitation,  and  this  time 
Handel  accepted. 

Hanover  offered  as  ideal  conditions  as  any  musician  could  hope 
to  find  in  eighteenth-century  Germany;  the  most  beautiful  opera 
house  in  the  country  and  a  perfectly  drilled  corps  of  singers  and  in- 
strumentalists. This  happy  state  of  affairs  had  been  brought  about 
by  the  unwearying  efforts  of  Agostino  Steffani,  one  of  the  most  re- 
markable figures  of  the  age.  This  charming  Venetian — a  jack-of- 
all-trades  with  a  touch  of  genius  for  each — was  still  officiating  as 
Kapellmeisterwhtn'H.a.udGl  arrived.  They  had  met  in  Italy,  and  had 
struck  up  a  cordial  relationship  based  on  mutual  esteem.  It  is  not 
known  whether  Steffani  graciously  yielded  place  to  the  younger 
man,  or  whether  misunderstandings  with  his  orchestra  and  singers 


forced  his  hand.  In  any  event,  Handel  soon  became  Kapellmeister 
with  his  predecessor's  blessing.  Although  their  contact  had  been 
fleeting,  Steffani's  influence  was  decisive  in  the  final  molding  of 
Handel's  Italian  manner,  and  Handel  never  forgot  this  debt. 

The  new  Kapellmeister's  first  act  was  to  ask  for  leave  of  absence 
to  go  to  England.  Why  did  he  go?  Probably  plain  restlessness  and 
curiosity — a  desire  for  new  worlds  to  conquer.  England  was  wear- 
ing her  gloomiest  autumnal  aspect  when  he  landed  on  her  shores. 
Everything  was  against  him.  He  did  not  know  a  word  of  English. 
The  few  German  musicians  resident  in  London  looked  upon  the 
newcomer  as  a  source  of  danger  to  their  embattled  positions.  And 
in  Queen  Anne's  England  music  was  in  a  state  of  coma  brought 
about  by  a  chain  of  lamentable  circumstances  and  a  dearth  of 
national  talent.  The  structure  of  English  music,  founded  on  so  fair 
a  base  by  Dunstable,  gaining  high-vaulted  nave  and  transepts  with 
Orlando  Gibbons  and  William  Byrd,  and  crowned  with  a  gleam- 
ing spire  by  Henry  Purcell,  had  suddenly  collapsed. 

Fifteen  years  before  Handel's  advent  in  1710,  Purcell  had  died 
prematurely.  It  is  idle  to  speculate  what  he  would  have  done  if  he 
had  lived  longer.  In  his  single  opera.  Dido  and  Aeneas.,  he  achieved 
perfection;  though  an  indefatigable  writer  for  the  stage,  he  never 
wrote  another  true  opera.  He  was  too  busy  with  anthems,  catches, 
chamber  pieces,  organ  voluntaries,  and  the  other  occasional  music 
demanded  by  the  exigencies  of  his  numerous  official  positions.  No 
matter  whether  examined  through  a  microscope  or  a  telescope, 
Purcell  is  a  baffling  figure.  Artistically  speaking,  he  is  a  sport:  he 
had  no  recognizable  ancestors;  more,  no  heirs  claimed  his  rich 
musical  estate,  though  Handel  borrowed  what  he  pleased  of  it. 
Indeed,  Handel's  "Englishness"  is  exactly  that  borrowing,  and  is 
betrayed  in  his  mighty  choral  effects,  his  widely  spaced  harmonies, 
and  the  pungent  utterances  of  his  woodwinds  and  brasses.  The 
overwhelming  choruses  conceived  by  the  Saxon  invader,  and  sung 
at  vast  tribal  festivals  these  past  two  hundred  years,  have  served 
to  blot  out  PurcelTs  fame.  Yet  he  was  a  very  great  composer,  far 
ahead  of  the  resources  of  his  age,  speaking  in  a  voice  that  was  at 
once  unmistakably  his  own  and  that  of  Restoration  England.  No 
one  has  less  deserved  obscurity. 

Musically,  then,  England  was  a  sorry  place  when  Handel 
arrived  there.  The  drying  up  of  the  national  genius  had  left  the 

6o  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

field  vacant  for  foreigners.  Thus  far,  however,  though  English 
society  loved  Italian  opera,  no  company  had  been  successful  in 
establishing  itself.  There  were  plenty  of  good  singers  available,  but 
no  composers  of  sufficient  talent  to  make  society  venture  out 
among  the  footpads  and  murderers  who  infested  the  London 
streets  and  lanes  at  night.  Drury  Lane  and  the  Queen's  Theater  in 
the  Haymarket  were  in  such  rank  sections  of  town  that  the  dimin- 
ishing audiences  feared  for  their  lives  going  to  and  from  the  opera. 
Frequently  pockets  were  picked  and  noses  broken  in  the  theaters 
themselves.  With  box-office  receipts  steadily  falling,  and  society 
forsaking  town  in  despairing  ennui,  it  was  evident  that  only  a 
novelty  of  high  quality  would  save  the  day.  Handel  was  exactly 
the  man  to  fill  the  bill. 

The  astute  impresario  of  the  Queen's  Theater,  Aaron  Hill, 
clearly  recognized  the  desperate  situation  he  was  in,  and  as  soon 
as  Handel  arrived,  commissioned  him  to  set  a  preposterous 
libretto  based  on  Tasso's  Gerusalemme  liberata.  Within  a  fortnight 
Handel  gave  Hill  a  masterpiece,  and  this,  under  the  title  of 
Rinaldo,  was  first  presented  to  an  unsuspecting  London  on  Febru- 
ary 24,  1711.  Its  success  was  beyond  Hill's  wildest  dreams:  over- 
night Handel  added  England  to  his  empire.  In  vain  did  Addison, 
himself  the  producer  of  an  unsuccessful  opera,  fulminate  against 
Rinaldo;  in  vain  did  Steele,  with  an  ax  to  grind  in  the  concert  field, 
come  to  his  friend's  aid.  Rinaldo  ran  through  the  town  like  wild- 
fire: society  danced  it,  whistled  it,  warbled  it — and  even  returned 
to  London  to  hear  it.  Between  the  premiere  and  June,  it  played 
fifteen  times  to  packed  houses.  John  Walsh,  who  published  the 
score,  made  so  much  money  out  of  it  that  Handel  remarked 
bitterly  that  Walsh  should  compose  the  next  opera,  and  he  would 
publish  it. 

Although  Handel  continued  to  compose  operas  for  a  quarter  of  a 
century,  he  never  surpassed  Rinaldo.  He  himself  pronounced  the 
air  "Cara  sposa"  the  best  he  ever  wrote;  "Lascia  cKiopianga"  which 
he  borrowed  note  for  note  from  Agrippina,  is  scarcely  less  fine. 
These  lamentations  are  not,  however,  characteristic  of  the  opera 
as  a  whole:  Rinaldo  brims  over  with  a  bright  youthful  passion  that 
Handel  lavished  on  his  scores  but,  seemingly,  not  on  his  personal 
relationships.  It  sounds  like  the  music  of  a  young  man  very  much 
in  love,  but  outside  of  a  not  very  well  attested  story  of  a  passing 


fancy  for  a  singer  who  had  sung  in  Rodrigo,  there  is  not  a  scrap  of 
evidence  that  Handel  ever  submitted  to  the  tenderer  emotions. 
Indeed,  except  for  Sir  Isaac  Newton,  Handel  seems  to  have  been 
the  most  unemotional  man  in  eighteenth-century  England. 

At  the  end  of  the  season,  Handel  reluctantly  left  Piccadilly's 
hospitable  drawing  rooms,,  and  returned  to  assume  his  duties  at 
Hanover.  It  was  a  decided  letdown  after  the  feverish  activity  of 
London,  and  the  opera  house,  which  alone  might  have  made  life 
tolerable  for  him,  was  closed.  A  year  later,  he  applied  for  another 
leave  of  absence,  which  was  granted  graciously  enough,  for  the 
Elector  was  willing  to  have  so  welcome  an  ambassador  of  good  will 
in  England,  where  he  hoped  shortly  to  reign.  Handel  was  cau- 
tioned, however,  to  return  in  a  "reasonable  time."  His  interpreta- 
tion of  this  vague  phrase  was  the  most  elastic  in  history:  with  the 
exception  of  flying  visits  to  the  Continent  and  Ireland,  he  remained 
in  England  until  his  death  almost  half  a  century  later. 

Handel's  return  was  marked  by  the  unsuccessful  performance  of 
a  rather  dull  opera  he  had  begun  in  Hanover.  Teseo  9  his  next  pro- 
duction, was  a  great  success,  due  both  to  its  superb  music  and  the 
excellent  libretto  furnished  by  Nicolo  Haym,  who  thus  began  a 
long  and  happy  collaboration  with  his  great  countryman.  The 
libretto  was  dedicated  to  Richard  Boyle,  Earl  of  Burlington,  the 
most  distinguished  art  patron  of  the  age,  and  already,  at  seven- 
teen, an  intelligent  admirer  of  Handel's  music.  After  hearing 
Teseo,  he  invited  Handel  to  take  up  his  abode  at  Burlington 
House.  Here  he  came  into  contact  with  the  social  and  intellectual 
elite.  Pope  and  Gay  were  intimates  of  the  house,  the  former  deli- 
cately tasting  the  music  he  was  to  extol,  years  later,  in  The  Dunciad. 

But  an  even  more  august  personage  was  to  shed  her  favor  on 
Handel.  While  Teseo  was  still  playing  to  crowded  houses,  he  was 
setting  his  first  English  text,  to  celebrate  the  approaching  birth- 
day of  Queen  Anne.  The  lonely  and  embittered  daughter  of  James 
II  was  so  delighted  with  this  Birthday  Ode,  and  with  the  Te  Deum 
Handel  composed  for  the  fetes  in  honor  of  the  Peace  of  Utrecht, 
that  she  settled  an  annual  pension  of  two  hundred  pounds  on  him. 
Poor  Anne,  whose  energies  were  too  often  spent  in  securing  petty 
revenge,  was  happy  to  make  England  seem  a  paradise  for  the 
favorite  musician  of  the  Elector  of  Hanover,  whom  she  detested. 
But  Handel  was  backing  tlie  wrong  horse.  In  August,  1714,  Anne 

62  MEN     OF     MUSIC 

did  the  one  thing  that  has  immortalized  her:  she  died.  On  the  same 
day  the  hated  Hanoverian  was  proclaimed  King. 

At  first  Handel  had  every  reason  to  fear  that  his  slighted  master 
would  retaliate.  His  name  was  pointedly  missing  from  among 
those  commanded  to  compose  music  for  the  coronation,  and 
though  he  kept  his  pension,  he  was  not  summoned  to  court.  But 
George  I  loved  music  passionately — even  Thackeray's  superb  vili- 
fication grants  that.  In  1715  the  news  that  Handel  had  written 
another  delightful  opera  was  too  much  for  the  King;  he  sulkily 
missed  the  first  performance,  but  showed  up  at  the  second  with 
two  fantastic  German  ladies  (his  mistress  and  his  half-sister),  and 
thereafter  came  regularly  during  the  balance  of  the  opera's  run. 
He  and  Handel  were  then  formally  reconciled. 

The  bare  facts  of  this  reconciliation,  which  had  such  bright 
results  for  English  music,  did  not  please  the  romancemongers. 
They  told  a  charmingly  whimsical  story  that  is  still  treasured  in  the 
great  human  hearts  of  the  broadcasting  companies.  According  to 
this  idyl,  in  1715  things  became  so  strained  that  His  Majesty's 
benevolent  Master  of  the  Horse  thought  of  a  quaint  stratagem. 
While  George  was  making  one  of  his  frequent  progresses  down  the 
Thames,  Handel  and  a  band  of  musicians  were  to  follow  closely  in 
another  barge,  and  play  music  that  would  melt  the  King.  And 
everything  fell  out  just  as  the  kindly  old  official  had  planned. 
George  was  so  enchanted  with  the  music  that  he  embraced 
Handel,  and  forgave  him  completely. 

There  is  only  one  thing  wrong  with  this  story:  it  is  not  wholly 
true.  Part  of  the  Water  Music  was  written  and  performed  in  1 71 5, 
part  in  1717,  after  the  reconciliation  between  Handel  and  the 
King.  Instead  of  being  sprung  on  George  as  a  surprise,  the  1715 
portions  were  played  at  his  command  for  a  party  on  the  Thames. 
He  liked  it  so  well  that  he  had  it  repeated  during  the  evening, 
though  each  performance  lasted  more  than  an  hour.  Even  in 
the  much  truncated  form  in  which  the  Water  Music  is  played  to- 
day (as  originally  published  in  1 740  it  had  twenty-five  movements) , 
it  can  be  heard  again  and  again  without  losing  its  freshness. 

Handel  never  composed  anything  more  English  than  the  Water 
Music.  It  is  shot  through  and  through  with  English  feeling;  it  is 
fashioned  with  jaunty  English  rhythms  and  bold,  simple  har- 
monies. The  hornpipe,  which  is  one  of  the  most  effective  sections  of 


the  suite,  utilizes  a  form  that  reaches  back  at  least  to  Ben  Jonson's 
England.  The  suite  concludes  with  a  robust  allegro  deciso  brim- 
ming over  with  the  gusto  of  living,  and  full  of  high,  singing  brasses 
that  would  have  delighted  PurceU.  Written  several  years  before  the 
"Brandenburg55  Concertos  (the  third  of  which  it  resembles  in 
rhythmic  heartiness),  the  Water  Music  is  the  oldest  orchestral  piece 
in  the  standard  repertoire.  It  is  difficult  to  conceive  of  an  age  that 
will  not  yield  to  its  vigorous  masculine  beauty. 

Handel's  reconciliation  with  George  I  had  doubled  his  pension. 
Further  to  emphasize  his  favor,  the  King  appointed  him  music 
master  to  the  royal  granddaughters — an  honor,  but  scarcely  a 
pleasure.  And  when  the  sovereign,  disgusted  with  English  ways, 
decided  in  1716  to  go  home  to  Hanover — he  even  threatened  never 
to  return— he  took  Handel  with  him.  For  the  composer  this 
German  sojourn  was  one  of  almost  complete  inactivity:  the  King 
was  too  busy  with  politics  and  the  chase  to  think  about  music. 
Handel  paid  a  visit  to  Halle,  where  he  saw  his  mother,  and  gen- 
erously relieved  Zachau's  widow,  who  had  been  left  in  penury. 
He  made  a  sentimental  journey  to  Ansbach  to  see  his  old  uni- 
versity chum,  Johann  Christoph  Schmidt,  and  found  him  and  his 
large  family  in  pitiable  circumstances.  Handel's  warm  sympathies 
were  roused,  and  as  he  needed  a  sympathetic  friend  to  manage  his 
affairs,  he  invited  Schmidt  to  accompany  him  to  England.  Schmidt 
accepted,  and  so  successfully  did  the  arrangement  turn  out  that  he 
soon  became  indispensable  to  his  benefactor.  He  shortly  brought 
over  his  entire  family,  and  they  all  seem  to  have  lived  with  Handel. 
One  of  the  sons,  whose  name  was  anglicized  to  John  Christopher 
Smith,  gradually  took  over  his  father's  duties  as  Handel's  general 
factotum.  It  was  to  this  John  Christopher,  himself  a  prolific  com- 
poser and  accomplished  organist,  that  Handel  dictated  his  music 
when  he  could  no  longer  see  to  write.  He  was  warmly  attached  to 
the  Schmidts.  Once,  having  removed  old  Schmidt's  name  from 
his  will  in  anger,  he  replaced  it  with  that  of  John  Christopher  and 
tripled  the  legacy.  For  Handel,  to  whom  love  seemed  a  stranger, 
was  the  most  affectionate  and  appreciative  of  men. 

Handel  returned  empty-handed  to  England  early  in  1717,  with- 
out even  waiting  to  hear  the  first  performance,  in  Hamburg,  of  the 
sole  fruit  of  his  German  visit — a  Passion  based  on  the  same  text 
Bach  later  used  for  parts  of  his  John  Passion.  Not  only  does  this 

64  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

work  not  merit  mention  in  the  same  breath  with  Bach's  great 
Passions,  but  it  shows  that  Handel's  genius  was  not  congenial  to 
the  sentiments  of  German  Pietism.  As  he  never  showed  the  slight- 
est interest  in  his  Passion,  he  probably  realized  that  this  type  of 
music  was  not  in  his  province.  Poles  apart  from  the  profoundly 
subjective  Bach,  Handel  was  too  much  the  magnificent  extrovert 
ever  to  be  a  truly  religious  composer. 

Handel's  return  coincided  with  a  lull  in  the  furore  for  opera,  and 
for  a  while  he  was  at  a  loose  end.  More,  he  was  in  financial  diffi- 
culties. It  is  true  that  he  had  his  pension  and  fees  for  teaching  the 
princesses  and  a  few  noble  pupils,  but  such  an  income  was  nothing 
to  a  man  who  had  learned  to  live  lavishly  from  the  high  society 
in  which  he  moved.  But,  as  always,  he  had  a  windfall.  He  met 
James  Brydges,  Earl  of  Carnarvon,  an  amiable  scoundrel  who  for 
years  had  enjoyed  the  best  graft  in  England  as  Paymaster  of  the 
Forces.  The  Earl  had  amassed  an  immense  fortune,  and  in  1712 
had  begun  the  building  of  Canons,  a  vast  palace  near  London, 
reputed  to  have  cost  £230,000.  The  magnificence  of  life  at  Canons, 
and  particularly  of  its  musical  establishment  is  thus  described  by 

"The  chapel  hath  a  choir  of  vocal  and  instrumental  music,  as 
in  the  Chapel  Royal;  and  when  his  grace  goes  to  church,  he  is 
attended  by  his  Swiss  Guards,  ranged  as  the  yeomen  of  the  guards; 
his  music  also  plays  when  he  is  at  table;  he  is  served  by  gentlemen 
in  the  best  order;  and  I  must  say  that  few  German  sovereign 
princes  live  with  that  magnificence,  grandeur,  and  good  order." 

The  director  of  the  music  at  Canons  was  the  competent  but 
pedantic  Dr.  Johann  Christoph  Pepusch,  later  to  become  famous  as 
arranger  of  The  Beggar's  Opera.  Poor  Pepusch  had  no  chance  at  all 
after  his  patron  met  Handel.  He  got  his  walking  papers  in  short 
order,  and  Handel  moved  in.  Here,  in  surroundings  which  were, 
even  for  him,  of  unprecedented  luxury,  he  lived  quietly,  spending 
most  of  his  time  playing  on  the  clavier  or  the  organ.  He  occasion- 
ally staged  a  masque  in  the  private  theater  or  gave  a  formal  recital 
for  his  master's  guests.  In  1719,  when  the  Earl  was  created  Duke 
of  Chandos,  Handel  hymned  the  great  event  in  a  group  of 
cantatas — the  "Chandos"  Anthems.  These  little-known  works, 
based  almost  entirely  on  the  Psalms,  are  in  effect  sketches  for  the 


vast  religious  dramas  of  his  later  years.  The  choruses  are  big  and 
imposing — monumental  on  a  small  scale. 

In  1720,  Handel  published  his  first  book  of  Puces  pour  le  clavecin, 
which  were  originally  noted  down  for  the  studies  of  the  little 
princesses.  The  character  of  these  pieces  obviates  any  real  com- 
parison with  The  Well-Tempered  Clavichord:  Bach  opened  up  a  new 
world  of  design,  while  Handel  was  content  to  follow  safely  in  the 
steps  of  Domenico  Scarlatti  and  Couperin.  A  second  book  of 
Pieces,  published  in  1733  (without  Handel's  permission),  is  equally 
conventional.  His  clavier  compositions  are  apt  to  disappoint  the 
listener  used  to  the  prodigally  ornamented  polyphonic  schemes  of 
Bach.  HandePs  are  unaffectedly  barren  in  harmony,  and  their 
simple  plan  of  successive  tonics  and  dominants  at  first  suggests 
lack  of  imagination.  These  suites,  and  particularly  the  second 
book,  were  in  effect  but  sketches  for  Handel's  own  performance. 
They  may  be  filled  out  in  imagination,  if  the  hearer  wishes,  with 
the  wealth  of  improvisatorial  ornament  that  flowed  torrentially 
from  Handel's  fingers. 

But  this  does  not  mean  that  the  suites  cannot  be  enjoyed  pre- 
cisely as  they  stand.  On  acquaintance,  their  very  simplicity  and 
Doric  leanness  invest  them  with  vigorous  beauty,  and  eventually 
one  finds  oneself  going  back  to  them  again  and  again.  The  fifth 
suite  in  the  first  book  contains  the  air  and  variations  known 
familiarly  but  absurdly  as  "The  Harmonious  Blacksmith."  The 
seventh  suite  in  this  book,  conceived  in  the  grand  style  Handel 
most  often  reserved  for  his  great  choruses,  contains  a  magnificent 
passacaglia  that  is  ever  effective  in  the  many  arrangements  that 
have  been  made  of  it.  Finally,  in  the  G  major  Chaconne,  from  the 
second  suite  of  Book  II,  rich  variety  is  created  by  slight  changes 
in  pattern — a  typically  Handelian  method.  It  is  another  essay  in 
the  grand  style,  opening  maestoso,  going  on  its  way  in  many  moods 
— scamperingly,  playfully,  pathetically — and  ending  in  a  swirling 
cascade  of  rolling  notes.  There  is  nothing  in  this  music  that  would 
baffle  a  first-year  theory  student,  and  its  effect  is  magical.  It 
illuminates  Beethoven's  judgment:  "Go  and  learn  of  him  how  to 
achieve  great  efforts  with  simple  means." 

Handel's  yearning  for  the  stage  bore  fruit  early  in  1720,  when 
he  set  John  Gay's  Ads  and  Galatea,  which  contains  one  of  his  most 
jocose  and  engaging  airs  (for  a  bass!),  "O  ruddier  than  the  cherry." 

66  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

The  same  year,  probably  to  a  poem  by  Pope  (not  one  of  his  happi- 
est flights)  3  he  composed  Haman  and  Mordecai,  for  which  the  Duke 
of  Ghandos  was  said  to  have  given  him  £1000.  Both  of  these  were 
masques,,  and  were  doubtless  first  produced  in  the  private  theater 
at  Canons.  Handel  then  put  them  aside,  and  years  later  produced 
much  expanded  versions  of  them.  But  they  were  still  the  char- 
acteristic efforts  of  a  composer  working  leisurely  under  the  pat- 
ronage of  a  benevolent  prince.  Even  while  he  was  fashioning  these 
trifles,  a  scheme  was  under  way  that  was  destined  to  uproot  him 
forever.,  and  throw  him  into  the  hurly-burly  of  opera  management. 

Disgusted  with  the  trash  that  was  still  holding  the  London 
stage,  an  aristocratic  clique  under  the  direction  of  the  Duke  of 
Newcastle  floated  a  shareholding  company  that  was  called,  by 
George  Ps  permission,  the  Royal  Academy  of  Music.  It  was  char- 
acteristic of  the  age  of  the  South  Sea  Bubble  and  other  vast  money- 
making  schemes  that  an  artistic  venture,  designed  to  make  London 
the  capital  of  opera,  should  have  been  put  on  a  speculative  basis. 
The  entire  stock  issue  of  £50,000  was  quickly  subscribed,  each  share 
costing  £100  and  entitling  its  owner  to  a  permanent  seat  in  the 
house.  As  early  as  1 7 1 9,  Handelj  to  whom  the  active  musical  direc- 
tion had  been  entrusted  at  the  King's  suggestion,  was  in  Germany 
hiring  singers  for  the  great  enterprise.  Everything  was  done  on  a 
lavish  scale.  There  were  associate  composers;  there  were  official 
librettists,  including  Handel's  favorite  collaborator,  Haym;  and, 
finally,  as  stage  manager,  the  directors  secured  the  services  of 
John  James  Heidegger,  called  "the  Swiss  Count."  If  not  one  of  the 
most  romantic  figures  of  the  time,  Heidegger  was  surely  one  of  the 
most  picturesque.  His  ugliness  was  a  byword,  but  fortunately  it 
was  matched  by  a  resourcefulness  that  amounted  to  genius.  The 
warm  friendship  between  him  and  Handel  had  begun  in  1713, 
when  the  kindhearted  Swiss  had  saved  the  run  of  Teseo  after  a  dis- 
honest manager  had  absconded  with  the  box-office  receipts. 

The  first  season  of  the  Royal  Academy  of  Music  opened  not 
with  an  opera  by  Handel,  but  with  a  confection  by  an  insignificant 
fourth-rater.  It  ran  six  nights,  and  then  the  season  really  opened, 
on  April  27,  1720,  with  Radamisto,  one  of  the  loveliest  and  most 
melodious  of  Handel's  scores.  None  of  the  celebrated  stars  hired 
by  Handel  had  yet  arrived,  and  the  difficult  role  of  Zenobia  was 


probably  sung  by  the  very  adequate,  but  familiar,  Anastasia 
Robinson.  King  George  and  his  entourage  occupied  the  royal  box, 
and  society  stormed  the  rest  of  the  house,  even  gallery  seats  going 
as  high  as  forty  shillings.  But  the  music  did  not  need  the  glamour 
of  new  stage  personalities  to  get  across.  For  almost  two  months  the 
Haymarket  Theater  was  the  scene  of  nightly  near  riots  by  wildly 
enthusiastic  audiences.  Once  more  the  notes  of  Handel  were  on 
every  lip.  The  shareholders  were  delighted. 

At  the  moment  of  Handel's  triumph  forces  were  gathering  for 
his  destruction.  Led  by  his  former  friend,  the  Earl  of  Burlington, 
they  included  those  exquisites  who  did  not  consider  the  large- 
bodied  German  the  most  appropriate  apostle  of  pure  Italian  art. 
Burlington  now  went  abroad  to  find  the  real  thing,  and  brought 
back  with  him  Giovanni  Battista  Buononcini,  almost  as  supreme 
on  the  Continent  as  Handel  was  in  England.  This  affected  but 
talented  Italian  became  the  spearhead  of  the  growing  cabal 
against  the  man  who  had  re-established  England's  prestige  in 
music.  Fate  played  into  his  hands:  the  opera  Handel  had  designed 
to  inaugurate  the  season  of  1 72 1  fell  flat,  despite  its  fine  melodies 
and  the  magnificent  roulades  of  the  most  sensational  castrato  of  the 
hour,  Senesino.  The  society  that  had  hailed  Buononcini's  Astarto 
the  season  before  wanted  more  music  in  this  lighter  vein.  Buonon- 
cini was  ready.  The  success  of  two  tuneful  operas,  produced  in 
rapid  succession,  took  the  town  by  storm,  and  drove  most  of 
fashionable  society  into  his  camp.  Momentarily  at  least,  Handel 
was  crowded  off  the  stage. 

Buononcini  was  rashly  content  to  rest  on  his  laurels.  He  roused 
himself  from  his  luxurious  sloth  during  the  next  year  only  to  write 
the  anthem  for  the  funeral  of  the  great  Duke  of  Marlborough. 
Meanwhile,  Handel  was  deploying  his  forces  for  a  final  struggle 
with  his  epicene  opponent.  Great  general  that  he  was,  he  realized 
that  London  could  not  be  reconquered  by  fine  music  alone.  He 
therefore  sent  to  Venice  for  Francesca  Cuzzoni,  already  at  twenty- 
two  so  famed  that  on  the  basis  of  her  reputation  alone  he  offered 
her  £2,000  a  year.  But  the  ugly  soprano  proved  so  intractable 
and  arrogant  that  he  once  threatened  to  throw  her  out  of  a  window 
if  she  did  not  sing  the  way  he  wanted  her  to.  Taming  Cuzzoni  was 
worth  the  trouble,  for  her  brilliant  performance  in  the  premiere  of 
Ottoney  on  January  12,  1723,  helped  Handel  to  regain  his  pre- 

68  MEN    OF     MUSIC 

eminence.  Although  Buononcini  remained  in  London  for  another 
decade,  even  producing  an  occasional  work  with  some  success,  he 
quietly  faded  out  as  an  effective  rival  to  the  all-conquering  Saxon. 
And  yet,  a  dispassionate  observer  will  agree  with  the  epigram  John 
Byrom  struck  off  in  the  heat  of  the  controversy: 

Some  say,  compared  to  Buononcini 
That  Mynheer  Handel's  but  a  ninny; 
Others  aver  that  he  to  Handel 
Is  scarcely  fit  to  hold  a  candle. 
Strange  all  this  difference  should  be 
Twixt  tweedle-dum  and  tweedle-dee. 

Up  to  this  point  Handel  had  shown  himself  superior  only  in  kind 
to  Buononcini. 

Until  1 724  Handel  had  been  content  to  fit  his  happy  inspirations 
into  the  creaking  formal  patterns  of  conventional  Italian  opera. 
Furthermore,  he  had  responded  like  a  weather  vane  to  every 
breeze.  Even  at  the  height  of  the  struggle  with  Buononcini,  he 
emulated  his  rival's  style.  Now,  however,  without  sloughing  off  the 
absurd  conventions  that  were  to  hold  opera  in  chains  until  Gluck 
rebelled  against  them,  he  invested  the  old  forms  with  a  new  ex- 
pressiveness. Giulio  Cesare  and  Tamerlano,  both  produced  in  1724, 
suffered  from  weak  librettos,  but  even  so  Handel  worked  wonders 
with  them.  The  recitatives  are  dramatic  revelations  of  character, 
and  Tamerlano^  indeed,  built  up  to  such  a  tremendous  climax  of 
pathos  that  the  sophisticated  and  reasonable  audiences  were  sent 
home  weeping. 

But  circumstances  prevented  Handel  from  exploring  farther  this 
rich  new  vein,  even  had  he  wanted  to.  Despite  the  quality  of  its 
music  and  the  most  starry  casts  in  Europe,  the  Royal  Academy  of 
Music  was  tottering.  The  generalissimo  of  this  vast  enterprise  was 
desperate.  Cuzzoni  and  Senesino  drew  such  fabulous  salaries  that 
only  nightly  capacity  audiences  could  satisfy  them  and  the  share- 
holders. And  attendance  was  falling  off.  Instead  of  retrenching, 
Handel  decided  to  stake  everything  on  a  single  throw  of  the  dice 
by  importing  Faustina  Bordoni,  Cuzzoni's  only  rival.  In  contriving 
to  bring  together  the  two  most  famous  sopranos  in  Europe,  Handel 
adumbrated  the  exploits  of  P.  T.  Barnum.  He  was  a  man  without 
fear:  he  put  them  both  in  his  new  opera,  Alessandro,  which  opened 


with  great  reclame  on  May  5,  1726.  As  it  ran  until  the  end  of  the 
season,  it  began  to  seem  that  Faustina's  salary  of  £2,000  a  year  was 
well  spent.* 

If  the  contest  between  Handel  and  Buononcini  was  a  spectacle, 
that  between  Cuzzoni  and  Faustina  was  a  sideshow.  For  two  whole 
jrears,  music  played  second  fiddle  at  the  Haymarket.  The  audi- 
snces  divided  into  Cuzzonites  and  Bordonites:  not  since  the  days  of 
the  Empress  Theodora  and  the  Hippodrome  riots  between  the 
Blues  and  the  Greens  had  faction  run  so  high.  Footpads  and 
tiooligans  mixed  with  the  operagoers,  and  took  sides  in  the  rowdy 
demonstrations.  Unquestionably  the  two  most  important  events 
Df  the  year  1727  were  the  death  of  George  I  in  a  post  chaise  on  a 
lonely  German  road  and  the  public  hair-pulling  match  between 
the  rival  queens  of  song  on  the  night  of  June  6. 

In  the  midst  of  all  this  hubbub  Handel  solemnly  became  a 
British  subject. 

One  of  the  new  Englishman's  first  duties  was  to  provide  the 
anthems  used  at  the  coronation  of  George  II,  in  October,  1727. 
The  next  month,  as  a  further  compliment  to  his  adopted  country, 
tie  presented  a  new  opera,  Riccardo  Primo,  a  fantastic  hash  based 
remotely  on  the  adventures  of  Richard  the  Lionhearted.  He  dared 
to  use  his  rival  prima  donnas  in  the  cast  again,  but  the  public 
would  have  none  of  Richard.  Handel  played  every  trump  in  his 
band,  but  even  his  belated  nationalism  peeping  from  under  an 
Italian  domino  could  not  save  the  Royal  Academy.  The  following 
January  the  happy  collaboration  of  Gay  and  Pepusch  successfully 
exploited,  in  The  Beggar's  Opera  (which  included  tunes  lifted 
brazenly  from  Handel),  a  vein  of  nationalism  that  paid  real  divi- 
dends. But  Handel  was  still  too  immersed  in  Italianism  to  draw  the 
moral  from  its  overwhelming  success.  He  saw  his  few  remaining 
patrons  flocking  to  the  Little  Theater  in  Lincoln's  Inn  Fields. 
While  Gay  and  Pepusch  were  pioneering  in  musical  comedy,  and 
packing  them  in  with  broad  ditties  sung  in  English  and  strung 
together  by  rollicking  dialogue,  the  master  opportunist  at  the 
Haymarket  could  do  nothing  better  than  compose  another — and 
then  another — Italian  opera.  Both  of  these  contained  much  excel- 

*  After  two  seasons  Faustina  returned  to  Italy.  Later  she  became  as  well  ac- 
quainted with  Bach  as  she  had  been  with  Handel.  She  died  in  1 783  at  the  age  of 

7O  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

lent  music,  but  they  could  not  save  the  situation.  In  June,  1 728,  the 
last  season  of  the  Royal  Academy  ended  with  a  huge  deficit. 

Still  Handel  clung  to  Italian  opera.  Having  lost  a  fortune  for  the 
Academy  shareholders,  he  now  decided  to  risk  his  own  and  Hei- 
degger's. Accordingly,  early  in  1729,  after  leasing  the  King's 
Theater,  he  made  another  Continental  foray  in  search  of  singers. 
He  lingered  in  Venice  until  news  that  his  mother  had  suffered  a 
paralytic  stroke  made  him  squeeze  his  huge  frame  into  the  first 
post  chaise.  At  Halle  he  found  her  in  a  pitiable  state- — blind, 
crippled,  and  mortally  ill.  In  a  life  singularly  free  of  emotional 
attachments,  Handel  had  lavished  all  his  love  on  his  mother.  To 
see  her  thus  stricken  dejected  him  immeasurably,  and  when,  at  this 
juncture,  Wilhelm  Friedemann  Bach  arrived  bearing  an  invitation 
from  his  father  in  Leipzig,  Handel  was  too  depressed  to  accept. 
These  two  giants  of  eighteenth-century  music  never  met. 

Reluctantly  bidding  what  he  must  have  known  was  a  last  fare- 
well to  his  mother  (she  died  the  following  year)  Handel  returned 
to  London,  and  busied  himself  with  managerial  problems.  So 
arduous  and  hectic  were  these  that  not  until  a  fortnight  before  the 
opening  did  he  finish  his  first  offering  of  the  season.  Haste  played 
him  false:  the  opera  was  a  makeshift  that  deservedly  failed.  And, 
in  fact,  the  new  management's  entire  first  season  was  an  unmiti- 
gated failure  despite  the  singers  Handel  had  imported.  The 
season  of  1730-31  was  more  successful,  due  as  much  to  the  drawing 
power  of  Senesino  as  to  the  revival  of  several  Handel  favorites. 
Poro,  a  new  work,  was  actually  declared  by  connoisseurs  to  be  the 
finest  opera  he  had  yet  composed.  Not  a  single  performance  failed 
to  pay.  The  old  magic  was  working  once  more.  But  even  it  could 
not  contend  against  the  weather,  of  which  there  was  a  vast  deal  in 
May,  1731.  The  King's  Theater  was  the  last  in  London  to  sur- 
render to  an  unprecedented  heat  wave. 

The  next  season  opened  dully,  and  was  languishing  along  un- 
profitably  when  there  took  place  an  event,  not  in  itself  important, 
that  changed  the  direction  of  Handel's  life  and  altered  the  face  of 
English  music,  Bernard  Gates,  one  of  his  warm  admirers,  ar- 
ranged a  birthday  surprise  for  Handel — a  revival  of  Haman  and 
Mordecai.,  the  masque  composed  for  the  private  theater  at  Canons  a 
decade  before.  Little  did  the  forty-seven-year-old  composer  realize, 
as  he  listened  to  the  children  of  the  Chapel  Royal  performing  his 


Long-neglected  work,  that  from  it  lie  would  seize  an  idea  whose 
development  would  make  his  place  secure  among  the  greatest 
masters  of  music  long  after  his  Italian  operas  had  fallen  into  un- 
deserved oblivion.  And  when  a  second  performance  drew  loud 
plaudits  from  a  picked  audience,  Handel's  only  reaction  was  a  de- 
dsion  to  produce  an  enlarged  version  at  the  Haymarket  He 
planned  to  have  it  sung  by  the  children  of  the  Chapel  Royal,  who 
had  given  so  excellent  an  account  of  themselves  in  the  Gates  re- 
vival. But  as  soon  as  the  news  spread,  there  were  vociferous  pro- 
tests from  moralists  and  churchmen.  They  had  protested  until 
they  were  blue  in  the  face  about  the  bawdy  farces  filling  the  play- 
houses. They  were  on  firmer  ground  in  objecting  to  a  Biblical 
drama  in  an  opera  house.  Gibson,  the  learned  and  austere  Bishop 
of  London,  brought  matters  to  a  head  by  forbidding  the  perform- 
ance. This  was  more  than  an  empty  ukase,  for  the  Chapel  Royal 
was  under  his  jurisdiction.  Handel  circumvented  the  ban  by  a 
technicality:  he  further  revised  Haman  and  Mordecai,  named  it 
Esther:  an  Oratorio  in  English,  and  presented  it  on  May  2,  1732,  at 
the  Haymarket,  but  without  scenery,  costumes,  or  stage  business, 
On  the  fourth  night  the  royal  family  attended  in  state,  and  from 
then  on  Esther's  complete  success  was  assured. 

It  was  not  at  once  apparent  that  oratorio  would  ultimately  dis- 
lodge Italian  opera  from  its  firm  hold  on  the  English  heart.  In 
fact,  Handel's  next  two  experiments  in  disguised  opera  were  dis- 
heartening, despite  the  increasing  impressiveness  of  his  choruses. 
Deborah  was  a  dead  failure,  and  the  measured  success  of  Athalia 
was  due  mainly  to  the  fact  that  it  was  produced  for  university 
celebrations  at  Oxford.  Here  Handel  was  welcomed  with  noisy 
admiration  by  students  and  dons  alike,  but  his  own  enthusiasm 
was  dampened  when  he  learned  that  the  doctorate  of  music  the 
University  intended  to  confer  on  him  would  cost  him  £100.  He 
declined  the  honor. 

Until  1738  HandePs  interest  in  oratorio  was  definitely  a  sideline, 
and  he  remained  generally  faithful  to  his  old  love.  But  Italian 
opera  proved  a  faithless  wench.  Affairs  at  the  Haymarket  went 
from  bad  to  worse,  and  the  rise  of  an  opposition  opera  under  the 
sponsorship  of  Frederick,  Prince  of  Wales  (historically  a  mere  inci- 
dent in  the  bitter  feud  between  George  II  and  his  heir),  brought 
the  Handel-Heidegger  management  to  the  brink  of  disaster.  The 

72  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

new  venture,  housed  in  the  Lincoln's  Inn  Fields  Theater,  drew 
away  from  the  Haymarket  its  brightest  stars — Senesino  and 
Cuzzoni — and  also  secured  the  services  of  Porpora,  the  most  cele- 
brated singing  teacher  of  the  age,  and  the  peerless  castrato,  Fari- 
nelli.  Porpora,  who  was  also  the  official  composer  of  this  "Opera 
of  the  Nobility,"  might  not  compose  as  effectively  as  Handel,  but 
the  Prince's  patronage  secured  the  most  fashionable  audiences 
possible,  and  his  singers  were  more  brilliant  than  those  the  Hay- 
market  could  muster.  In  July,  1734,  Handel  and  Heidegger 
bowed  to  the  inevitable,  and  closed  their  doors.  Porpora  im- 
mediately leased  the  Haymarket,  which  was  a  better  house  than 
Lincoln's  Inn  Fields. 

As  a  businessman  Handel  was  as  resilient  as  ever:  knowing  full 
well  that  Lincoln's  Inn  Fields  was  inadequate  in  every  respect,  he 
nevertheless  took  it,  and  boldly  planned  his  coming  season.  His 
new  opera  house  was  seated  in  little  better  than  a  garbage  dump, 
and  was  a  catchall  for  London's  lowest  denizens;  his  once  splendid 
galaxy  was  sadly  depleted,  and  the  King's  halfhearted  patronage 
availed  nothing  against  the  Prince  of  Wales'  spirited  championing 
of  Porpora.  Handel  revived  a  few  operas  at  Lincoln's  Inn  Fields, 
but  the  response  was  worse  than  poor — all  London  was  flocking  to 
the  Haymarket,  where  the  one  and  only  Farinelli  was  warbling 
inimitably  in  Artaserse,  the  masterpiece  of  Faustina's  husband, 
Johann  Adolf  Hasse.  Nor  did  a  move,  in  December,  1734,  to  a  new 
theater  in  Covent  Garden  help  matters  much.  The  exquisite 
melodies  of  Alcina  could  not  leave  the  English  heart  completely 
untouched,  but  generally  speaking,  Handel's  ill  luck  continued 
throughout  1735.  And  now,  to  make  matters  worse,  the  robust 
Saxon  frame  was  assailed  by  the  first  of  a  cumulation  of  ailments 
that  were  to  trouble  the  latter  days  of  this  amiable  glutton.  He 
was  fifty,  and  had  never  had  the  prudence  to  husband  his 

Back  from  taking  the  waters  at  Tunbridge  Wells,  Handel 
devoted  himself  feverishly  to  setting  the  finest  libretto  that  ever 
fell  to  his  lot — a  version  of  Dryden's  Alexander's  Feast,  or  the  Power 
of  Music.  He  completed  the  oratorio  in  twenty  days,  and  shocked 
conservative  musicians  by  hiring  a  nineteen-year-old  English 
boy  as  leading  tenor.  This  youngster,  John  Beard,  was  finally  to 
lift  Handel  from  the  financial  morass  as  effectively  as  Farinelli 


had  lifted  Porpora's  company.  Alexander's  Feast  was  a  triumph, 
Dryden  had  written  this  most  Dionysiac  of  English  odes  in  a  single 
night:  Handel's  setting  has  the  same  controlled  abandon,  the  full 
flavor  of  a  classic  bacchanal.  Handel.,  whose  English  was  so  broken 
and  halting  that  he  was  a  laughingstock  among  the  cruel  wits  of 
the  town,  honored  Dryden's  beautiful  lines  with  a  perfect  under- 
standing that  wove  for  them  a  sumptuous  and  entirely  appropriate 
garment  of  song. 

But  Alexander's  Feast  only  momentarily  stemmed  the  flood  of 
disaster.  Even  good  luck  was  against  Handel.  When  custom  re- 
quired him  to  write  wedding  music  for  the  Prince  of  Wales,  he  did 
his  duty  so  well  that  the  Prince  was  won  over  to  his  side  in  the  War 
of  the  Opera  Houses.  But  by  winning  the  Prince  he  lost  the  King, 
who  declared  pettishly  that  where  his  son  went  he  was  never  seen. 
The  effect  on  musical  London  was  simple:  Covent  Garden  and  the 
Haymarket  exchanged  audiences.  And  both  companies  rushed 
headlong  toward  failure.  Handel's  health  became  alarming:  his 
frantic  efforts  to  shore  up  his  collapsing  fortunes  were  succeeded 
by  an  obstinate  spell  of  the  most  abject  depression.  As  Covent 
Garden  dragged  to  its  miserable  end,  the  composer  was  smitten 
with  paralysis.  His  entire  right  side  was  affected,  he  was  in  agony, 
and  for  a  moment  it  seemed  that  his  mind  was  going.  While  he 
was  in  this  fog  of  mingled  physical  and  mental  anguish,  Govent 
Garden  closed  its  doors.  Ten  days  later,  Porpora  too  was  forced  to 
the  wall. 

And  now  the  threat  of  imprisonment  was  added  to  Handel's 
other  woes.  He  was  bankrupt,  and  though  most  of  his  creditors 
were  well  disposed  toward  him,  at  least  one  of  them  acted  toward 
the  fallen  impresario  with  malignant  severity.  Possibly  Handel's 
official  position  enabled  him  to  escape  debtors'  prison.  In  any 
event,  after  giving  promissory  notes  to  his  creditors,  he  painfully 
took  ship  for  the  Continent.  He  lingered  at  Aix-la-Chapelle  for 
some  months:  the  paralysis  gradually  left  him  and  the  clouds  lifted 
from  his  mind.  When  he  returned  to  England  in  November,  1737, 
he  was,  to  all  intents  and  purposes,  completely  cured.  He  found 
London  in  gloom:  Caroline,  the  beloved  wife  of  George  II,  was 
dying.  To  his  sorrow,  Handel's  first  task  proved  to  be  her  funeral 
anthem.  Not  since  the  days  of  Tom^s  Luis  de  Victoria's  elegy  on 
the  death  of  his  august  patroness  had  so  majestic  a  threnody  been 

74  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

composed.  Under  such  solemn  auspices  did  the  disgraced  com- 
poser win  back  his  place  in  the  fickle  affections  of  the  people. 

But  his  misfortunes  dragged  on.  Heidegger,  the  new  lessee  of 
the  Haymarket,  staged  two  new  Handel  operas  early  the  next  year. 
London  stayed  away,  not  maliciously,  but  because  Italian  opera 
had  momentarily  worn  out  its  welcome.  Handel's  inability  to 
meet  his  notes  so  enraged  one  of  his  creditors  that  he  was  again 
threatened  with  debtors'  prison.  At  this  juncture  he  was  reluctantly 
persuaded  to  permit  a  benefit  concert  in  his  behalf.  Fashionable 
London,  which  had  so  frankly  left  him  in  the  lurch  as  soon  as  his 
entertainment  bored  them,  turned  out  en  masse  as  if  to  make 
amends.  One  thousand  pounds  was  collected,  and  with  this  sum 
Handel  was  able  to  pay  his  persecutor,  and  tell  him  off  in  a  spate 
of  mixed  German  and  English  invective. 

In  the  summer  another  proof  of  Handel's  place  in  public  esteem 
was  provided  when  the  astute  Jonathan  Tyers,  manager  of  the 
Vauxhall  Gardens,  London's  most  fashionable  resort,  commis- 
sioned Louis-Frangois  Roubilliac,  a  kind  of  latter-day  Bernini,  to 
make  a  statue  of  Handel  for  the  Gardens.  Tyers  would  never  have 
spent  the  £300  unless  he  had  been  certain  that  it  was  good  busi- 
ness. Even  if  the  public  stayed  away  from  his  operas,  Handel  was 
the  idol  of  the  hour.  Nobody's  music  was  more  popular  at  the 
Gardens:  the  band  nightly  played  excerpts  from  his  works.  Of 
course,  Tyers  reaped  a  golden  harvest.  As  for  poor  Handel,  all  he 
got  was  a  silver  ticket  of  general  admission  to  the  Gardens,  en- 
graved by  Hogarth. 

Handel  reacted  to  these  signs  of  friendliness  with  a  terrific  spurt 
of  energy.  In  April,  Heidegger  had  staged  Serse  at  the  Haymarket. 
This  new  work  had  been  a  clever  attempt  to  muscle  in  on  the  new 
territory  opened  up  by  The  Beggar's  Opera,  But  despite  a  really 
funny  libretto  and  appropriate  music,  Serse  (which  looks  forward 
to  the  opera  comique  rather  than  backward  to  The  Beggar's  Opera) 
had  not  caught  the  public  fancy.  It  contained  the  aria  "Ombra 
maifu"  which  as  far  as  is  known  evoked  no  curtain  calls  opening 
night.  It  was  just  another  Handel  tune.  It  got  no  publicity  in  the 
eighteenth  century.  Suddenly,  in  Queen  Victoria's  time,  it  was 
taken  up,  and,  as  "Handel's  Largo"  or  "The  Largo  from  Xerxes," 
now  holds  a  vast  public.  As  performed  today  (in  the  wrong  tempo) , 
it  is  peaceful  and  majestic,  almost  solemn  in  mood;  its  popularity 


is  something  of  a  mystery.  What  Handel  thought  of  it  is  not  known, 
but  as  he  had  a  habit  of  using  his  favorites  over  and  over,  the  fact 
that  "Ombra  maifu"  appears  in  only  one  opera  tells  its  own  story. 

The  failure  ofSerse  finally  convinced  Handel  that  his  struggle  to 
keep  Italian  opera  on  the  boards  was  futile.  At  the  age  of  fifty- 
three,  he  boldly  started  at  the  top  of  another  musical  leaf.  But  love 
dies  hard,  and  during  the  next  three  years  he  worked  intermit- 
tently at  two  operas.  These,  tuneful  though  they  are,  seem  half- 
hearted and  stillborn.  Handel  allowed  them  to  be  produced  care- 
lessly by  hack  singers :  he  was  busy  making  history  with  the  oratorio. 
'  Had  Handel  died  in  1 738,  he  would  not  now  be  reckoned  among 
the  titans  of  music.  As  far  as  their  value  to  posterity  is  concerned 
the  first  fifty-three  years  of  his  life  must  be  counted  as  a  tragic 
waste.  In  cold  fact,  some  of  his  finest  inspirations  lie  buried  in 
those  crumbling  operatic  scores  that  seem  unlikely  ever  to  be 
revived  except  as  lifeless  curiosities.  The  blame  for  this  neglect 
must  be  laid  unqualifiedly  at  Handel's  own  door.  He  was  content 
to  acquiesce  in  the  traditional  scheme  of  Italian  opera — a  succes- 
sion of  barely  related  numbers  having  no  integral  connection  with 
the  libretto,  itself  usually  a  piece  of  extravagant  and  high-flown 
nonsense.  It  seems  doubtful  that  he  ever  conceived  of  the  opera  as 
a  dramatic  unity — in  any  event  he  never  achieved  it.  Many  of  his 
arias  and  concerted  numbers  attain  momentary  dramatic  in- 
tegrity, and  a  surprisingly  high  percentage  of  them  are  as  lovely 
and  appealing  now  as  the  day  they  were  written.  The  best  airs 
have  a  springtime  spontaneity  that  is  lacking  in  the  otherwise  more 
impressive  later  works.  But  so  long  as  recitalists  confine  their  ex- 
haustive investigations  to  the  compositions  of  Oley  Speaks,  Liza 
Lehmann,  Ernest  Charles,  and  other  modern  masters,  it  seems  un- 
likely that  audiences  will  ever  know  that  Handel  wrote  more  than 
ten  or  twelve  songs. 

Had  Handel  died  in  1738,  what  now  would  be  salvaged?  Prob- 
ably nothing  more  than  the  "Largo,"  "The  Harmonious  Black- 
smith," and  the  Water  Music.  In  short,  he  would  belong  among 
those  small  masters  who  on  rare  occasions  outranked  themselves.  He 
would  be  classed  among  the  Rameaus  and  Corellis  and  Galuppis, 
with  their  Tambourins  and  Weinachtskonzerts  and  Toccatas.  Once  in 
a  while  that  discoverer  of  buried  treasure,  Bernard  Herrmann, 

76  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

would  dignify  the  business  of  broadcasting  by  presenting  one  of 
the  Concerti  grossi,*  the  best  of  which  challenge  comparison  with 
the  c  "Brandenburg"  Concertos.  But  that  strange  marriage  of  names 
— Bach  and  Handel — would  never  have  been  heard.  Handel  would 
have  been,  in  musical  history,  just  another  of  that  group  of  eight- 
eenth-century immortals — Alessandro  Scarlatti,  Hasse.  Porpora, 
and  Jommelli — unjustly  massacred  in  the  operatic  revolution  of 
Christoph  Willibald  von  Gluck. 

But  Handel  in  1738  had  more  than  twenty  years  to  live.  Witnout 
worrying  about  a  career  that  lay  in  ruins,  he  set  about  creating — 
or  piecing  together — a  new  musical  form.  Just  as  he  had  stub- 
bornly kept  on  producing  Italian  operas  long  after  the  public  lost 
interest  in  them,  he  now  began  literally  forcing  oratorios  on  his 
audiences.  There  was  bitter  resistance.  He  made  and  lost  fortunes, 
and  triumphed  in  the  end  only  because  he  happened  to  die  on  an 
upswing.  It  is  only  fair,  however,  to  observe  that  the  reaction  in 
favoF  of  these  magnificent  creations  eventually  drew  to  them  the 
largest  and  most  enthusiastic  audiences  in  the  history  of  music. 

Although  Handel  had  already  tentatively  explored  the  possi- 
bilities of  oratorio,  it  was  not  until  1739  that  he  turned  his  back  on 
Italian  opera,  and  finally  made  oratorio  the  main  business  of  his 
life.  His  new  career  began  inauspiciously  enough.  Having  leased 
the  King's  Theater,  he  produced  Saul  and  Israel  in  Egypt  within  a 
few  months  of  each  other.  The  indifference  that  greeted  these 
works  is  inexplicable:  the  solemn  and  majestic  Dead  March  from 
Saul  would  alone  immortalize  this  work,  while  the  monumental 
Israel  in  Egypt)  now  heard  all  too  rarely,  does  not  lack  partisans 
who  hold  it  more  sublime  than  Messiah.  It  is  so  vast  in  its  propor- 
tions that  Handel  waited  seventeen  years  before  reviving  it.  The 
thunder  of  its  choruses  rolls  almost  constantly,  unfolding  the 
awful  chronicle  of  Exodus  with  epic  grandeur.  With  the  surest  of 
instincts,  Handel  rigorously  limited  the  use  of  solo  voices,  doubtless 
realizing  that  they  could  not  sustain  the  dread  cadences  of  the 
narrative.  Of  course,  as  the  choruses  now  used  in  Israel  in  Egypt  are 
usually  at  full  war  strength,  outnumbering  the  orchestra  at  least 
five  to  one,  it  has  become  almost  impossible  to  hear  the  oratorio  as 
Handel  conceived  it,  with  chorus  and  orchestra  of  equal  size.  Sir 

*  Although  not  yet  published  in  1 738,  most  of  the  twelve  masterly  Concerti  grossi 
of  Opus  6  had  doubtless  been  composed. 


Donald  Tovey,  who  produced  Israel  in  Egypt  in  Handel's  way, 
called  "The  people  shall  hear  and  be  afraid"  the  "greatest  of 
all  Handel's  choruses." 

Depressed  in  mind  and  purse  by  the  failure  of  these  oratorios, 
Handel  withdrew  once  more  to  the  smaller  Lincoln's  Inn  Fields 
Theater.  Strangely  enough,  the  very  people  who  had  disdained  to 
hear  Saul  and  Israel  in  Egypt  at  the  King's  Theater  plowed  their 
way  through  the  noisome  muddy  lanes  to  the  large  hovel  that 
housed  HandePs  new  undertaking.  There  was  war  with  Spain,  and 
the  martial  flourishes  of  the  Ode  for  St.  Cecilia's  Day  stirred  the 
bellicose  Londoners.  Soon  the  town  was  belligerently  droning 
Dryden's  worst  lines: 

The  TRUMPETS  loud  Clangor 

Excites  us  to  Arms 
With  shrill  Notes  of  Anger 

And  Mortal  Alarms. 
The  double  double  double  beat 

Of  the  thundering  DRUM 

Cryes,  heark  the  Foes  come; 
Charge.,  Charge,  'tis  too  late  to  retreat. 

For  a  time,  money  poured  in.  Then  came  an  intense  cold  wave, 
so  persistent  and  unprecedented  that  it  is  still  known  as  the  "great 
frost  of  1740."  Handel,  whose  enterprises  had  once  succumbed  to 
heat  prostration,  tried  to  make  the  theater  as  coldproof  as  possible, 
and  wooed  his  frozen  patrons  with  a  new  work  of  exceeding 
charm — U  Allegro,  il  Penseroso,  ed  il  Moderate.  Charles  Jennens,  who 
contrived  this  potpourri,  used  parts  of  Milton's  two  poems,  and 
added  a  third  section  by  himself — a  tasteless  procedure  typical  of 
an  age  which  preferred  Nahum  Tate's  bowdlerized  versions  of 
Shakespeare  to  the  originals.  This  work  failed,  and  so  did  HandeFs 
final  fling  at  opera  the  next  autumn.  The  weary  old  man  withdrew 
into  himself,  and  none  but  his  intimates  saw  him  for  almost  a  year. 
In  the  drawing  rooms  of  Piccadilly  they  were  saying  that  Mr. 
Handel  was  through. 

Suddenly,  in  November,  1741,  he  emerged  from  his  shell,  and 
sailed  for  Ireland  at  the  invitation  of  the  Lord  Lieutenant.  He  was 
traveling  heavy — in  his  luggage  was  the  manuscript  of  Messiah., 
which  he  had  composed  the  previous  summer  in  little  more  than 

78  MEN     OF     MUSIC 

three  weeks.  In  Dublin,  he  was  received  everywhere  with  an  ac- 
claim that  quickened  his  chilled  blood.  He  produced  several  of  his 
compositions  with  growing  success.  Late  in  March,  the  first  play- 
bills announcing  Messiah  appeared  in  Dublin,  and  on  April  13, 
1742,  it  was  produced  at  Neal's  Music  Hall  in  Fishamble  Street. 
Scenes  of  wildest  enthusiasm  occurred  at  this  performance,  and  it 
seems  strange  that  Handel  waited  until  June  to  repeat  it.  This 
day  turned  out  sultry,  but  heat  did  not  deter  the  Irish:  Neal's  was 
packed  to  the  roof.  Two  cathedral  choirs  sang  the  mighty  choruses 
superbly,  and  the  notorious  Mrs.  Gibber,  who  had  created  the  role 
of  Polly  Peachum  in  The  Beggafs  Opera.,  sang  the  air  "He  was 
despised"  with  such  devout  tenderness  that  the  Reverend  Dr. 
Delany  exclaimed,  "Woman!  for  this  thy  sins  be  forgiven  thee!" 

Messiah  is  Handel's  masterpiece,  and  among  the  unquestioned 
masterpieces  of  music  it  towers  like  a  mighty  alp.  In  this  rarefied 
atmosphere  only  the  tremendous  massif  of  the  B  minor  Mass 
reaches  higher.  With  the  Matthew  Passion,  Messiah  crowns  the  devo- 
tional aspiration  of  the  Protestant  genius.  From  the  foursquare 
orchestral  introduction  to  the  great  concluding  chorus,  "Worthy  is 
the  Lamb,"  the  oratorio  is  sustained  on  the  loftiest  level  of  musical 
invention  and  spiritual  nobility.  Unity  though  Messiah  is,  it  con- 
tains many  separate  airs  which  lose  little  in  being  performed 
alone.  The  two  tenor  airs  after  the  introduction  are  so  moving  that 
one  hearing  Messiah  for  the  first  time,  and  unaware  of  Handel's 
stanchless  melodic  inventiveness,  might  fear  that  his  best  work  is  at 
the  beginning.  But  Messiah  is  like  a  palace  in  which  wonderment 
grows  at  every  step,  and  the  mere  recital  of  its  treasures  is  weari- 
some. That  outburst  of  tremendous  joy,  the  "Hallelujah"  Chorus, 
which  brought  cocky  little  George  II  to  his  feet  in  spontaneous 
homage,  has  lost  none  of  its  overpowering  vitality  in  two  cen- 
turies. Handel  believed  it  was  divinely  inspired:  "I  did  think  I  did 
see  all  Heaven  before  me — and  the  great  God  himself."  The 
pathos  of  "He  shall  feed  His  flock"  and  "I  know  that  my  Re- 
deemer liveth"  is  not  lost  even  on  an  unbeliever.  The  truth  is  that 
Messiah,  like  any  transcendent  work  of  genius,  escapes  the  bound- 
aries of  creed  and  nation. 

The  British  did  not  take  to  Messiah  at  once.  When  Handel  re- 
turned from  Dublin,  he  was  not  so  simple  as  to  begin  his  London 
season  with  a  work  he  had  first  produced  in  Ireland.  He  presented, 


instead,  an  entirely  new  oratorio,  Samson.,  which  under  the  Bang's 
patronage  enjoyed  the  brilliant  success  it  well  deserved.  This  time 
the  librettist  had  bowdlerized  Milton's  Samson  Agonistes,  a  poem 
from  which  Handel  wrung  the  utmost  dramatic  value.  Although 
it  is  Handel  on  a  large  scale,  and  contains  such  memorable  num- 
bers as  "Fixed  in  His  everlasting  seat55  and  "Total  eclipse/5  it  is 
not  of  Messiah  caliber.  And  yet,  the  very  people  who  had  ac- 
claimed Samson  received  Messiah  coldly.  In  vain  did  George  II  do 
homage — London  barely  supported  five  performances  of  Handel's 
masterpiece  in  six  years.  For  once,  the  composer  was  so  annoyed 
that  he  took  to  his  bed,  and  somewhat  later  had  recourse  to  the 
waters  at  Tunbridge  Wells. 

It  took  a  national  celebration  to  rouse  Handel  from  his  lethargy. 
On  June  27,  1743,  the  King  happened  to  be  with  his  armies  at 
Dettingen,  a  tiny  Bavarian  village.  Here  he  chanced  to  meet  a 
much  larger  French  army,  and  in  some  inexplicable  way  won  the 
only  victory  of  his  brief  career  as  a  soldier  in  the  field.  A  tre- 
mendous celebration  with  trumpet  and  drum  was  in  order,  and 
Handel  rose  to  the  occasion  with  the  specially  composed  Dettingen 
Te  Deum,  which  was  performed  on  a  terrifyingly  large  scale  in  the 
Chapel  Royal.  Needless  to  say,  this  Te  Dmm  was  the  only  im- 
portant result  of  George  IPs  great  victory  at  Dettingen. 

During  the  next  two  years.  Handel  was  busy  producing  both 
sacred  and  secular  oratorios,  only  one  of  which  is  still  stageworthy, 
Most  of  these  are  museum  pieces,  but  Semele  is  really  delicious 
throughout.  Unhappily,  the  lovely  "Where'er  you  walk35  exerts  a 
fatal  attraction  on  every  proud  possessor  of  a  tenor  voice.  As  sung 
by  John  McCormack,  it  comes  through  as  the  high  lyrical  flight 
that  Handel  wrote.  Semele  provoked  a  modest  show  of  interest,  but 
the  machinations  of  rival  impresarios  (who  were  still  true  to  opera) 
wooed  away  his  patrons,  and  the  productions  that  followed  it  soon 
dissipated  not  only  the  meager  profits  from  Semele,  but  also  those 
from  his  Irish  tour.  And  so,  in  April,  1745,  Handel  was  once  more 
forced  into  bankruptcy,  and  went  automatically  to  drink  what 
must  by  then  have  been  the  very  bitter  waters  of  Tunbridge  Wells. 
Pain  racked  his  body,  and  this  time  there  were  those  who  said 
that  Mr.  Handel  was  going  mad. 

But  again  he  disappointed  his  enemies.  He  rose  triumphant  to 
scourge  the  Stuart  uprising — the  sad  lost  cause  of  the  Young  Pre- 

8o  MEN     OF  .MUSIC 

tender — in  the  vengeful  strophes  of  the  Occasional  Oratorio,  and  a 
little  more  than  a  year  later  he  hymned  the  victor  of  Culloden  with 
a  masterpiece,  Judas  Maccabaeus.  It  would  take  a  Jesuit  to  find  any 
real  resemblance  between  the  noble  hero  of  the  Maccabees  and  the 
bloody  Duke  of  Cumberland,  the  butcher  who  had  finally  saved 
England  from  the  Stuarts.  Nor  is  there  any  reason  to  suspect  that 
Handel  saw  any  resemblance.  However,  in  the  stirring  chorus 
"Glory  to  God/'  the  old  composer  rose  loftily  to  the  patriotic 
demands  of  an  England  that  had  treated  him  shabbily  for  years. 
And  Judas  Maccabaeus,  with  its  intensely  expressed  national  feeling, 
turned  the  English  into  true  if  tardy  Handelians,  and  so  they  have 
remained  ever  since. 

Because  Judas  Maccabaeus  was  the  first  Jewish  figure  to  be 
represented  favorably  on  the  English  stage,  the  Jews  crowded 
Covent  Garden  during  the  entire  run  of  the  oratorio.  Handel's 
fortunes  were  completely  rehabilitated,  and  as  a  grateful  compli- 
ment to  his  new  patrons  (as  well  as  what  he  thought  was  a  shrewd 
business  move),  the  rest  of  his  oratorios,  except  one,  were  based  on 
stories  from  Jewish  history  and  legend.  The  writing  of  these  took 
most  of  his  creative  energy  from  the  summer  of  1747  to  that  of 
1751.  Although  he  did  not  hit  another  real  winner  until  Jephtha, 
the  last  of  these,  every  one  of  them,  with  the  possible  exception  of 
Alexander  Balus,  contains  melodies  and  choruses  of  enduring 
beauty.  Joshua  has  the  lyric  "Oh,  had  I  Jubal's  lyre,"  Susanna  the 
exquisitely  tender  "Ask  if  yon  damask  rose  be  fair,"  and  Jephtha 
the  perennial  favorite,  "Waft  her,  angels.35  Such  instances  could  be 
many  times  multiplied.  Handel  himself  said  that  the  chorus  "He 
saw  the  lovely  youth,"  from  Theodora,  was  the  finest  he  ever  com- 
posed, and  complained  bitterly  that  the  oratorio  was  not  better 
attended.  "There  was  room  enough  to  dance  there  when  that  was 
performed,"  he  declared.  George  II  remained  faithful,  but  so  little 
social  importance  attached  to  his  person  that  often  he  was  almost 
alone  in  the  theater. 

But  if  London  was  cold  to  these  novelties  from  the  pen  of  its 
aging  musical  arbiter,  it  lined  his  pockets*  when  he  revived  those 
works  which  were  already  on  their  way  to  becoming  staples  of  the 
English  fireside.  Hercules,  now  gone  from  the  repertoire,  was  a 

*  In  his  otherwise  simply  appointed  house  in  a  fashionable  section,  Handel  col- 
lected some  fine  paintings,  including  several  Rembrandts. 


jreat  favorite  in  the  eighteenth  century.  Judas  Maccabaeus  by  itself 
made  a  fortune  for  Handel.  But  Messiah,  the  history  of  whose  popu- 
larity is  still  being  written,  eventually  outstripped  its  rivals,  even 
iuring  his  lifetime.  Things  came  to  such  a  pass  that  it  was  almost 
accessary  to  declare  a  national  holiday  when  Mr.  Handel,  seated  in 
majesty  at  the  organ,  conducted  his  masterpiece. 

But  the  phenomenal  vitality  that  had  driven  this  mighty  engine 
for  sixty-four  years  was  beginning  to  dry  up.  Gout  tortured 
Handel's  massive  body,  and  every  motion  was  agony.  His  sight 
was  failing  rapidly.  Early  in  1749,  the  King  asked  him  to  perform 
what  proved  to  be  his  last  official  duty — the  composition  of  music 
for  a  celebration  of  the  Peace  of  Aix-la-Chapelle.  The  result  was 
the  celebrated  Firework  Music.  When  it  was  rehearsed  in  Vauxhall 
Gardens  on  April  2 1 ,  over  twelve  thousand  people  paid  two  shill- 
ings sixpence  each  to  hear  it,  and  held  up  traffic  over  London 
Bridge  for  three  hours — probably  the  most  stupendous  tribute  any 
composer  ever  received.  The  performance,  six  days  later,  was  even 
more  spectacular..  A  fantastic  victory  temple  was  erected  in  the 
Green  Park,  a  noted  French  pyrotechnician  was  employed  to 
devise  the  fireworks,  101  brass  cannon  were  provided  for  the  royal 
salute,  Handel  was  given  a  band  larger  than  a  modern  symphony 
orchestra,  and  the  bill,  for  .everything  was  handed  to  the  Duke  of 
Montagu,  who  died  three  months  later.  In  fact,  everything  was 
done  to  hide  the  truth  that  the  Peace  of  Aix4a-Chapelle  was  an 
empty  victory  for  England.  All  London  was  crowded  into  the 
Green  Park:  the  little  brass  cannon  roared,  the  fireworks  fizzled, 
and  finally  the  victory  temple  burst  into  flames.  The  one  un- 
questioned success  was  the  music. 

The  Firework  Music  ranks  just  below  the  Water  Music,  which  it 
strongly  resembles,  with  its  emphatic  rhythms  and  noisy,  eloquent 
brasses,  though  here,  as  always,  Handel  knew  how  to  ring  the 
changes  on  his  own  quotations.  The  idyllic  largo,  which  he  called 
La  Paix,  breathes  the  very  essence  of  a  world  into  which  peace  has 
come.  Both  the  Firework  and  Water  suites,  so  admirably  scored  for 
open-air  performance,  evidence  Handel's  delicate  sense  of  acoustics. 
-.•In  May,  1749,  Handel  repeated  the  Firework  Music  in  the  first 
of  those  charity  concerts  which  have  ever  since  linked  his  name  in- 
extricably with  that  of  the  Foundling  Hospital.  The  next  year  he 
began  the  famous  annual  series  of  benefit  performances  of  Messiah, 


the  proceeds  of  which — never  less  than  £500,  and  once  as  much  as 
£1000 — likewise  went  to  the  Hospital.  His  last  years  were  spent  in 
thinking  up  ways  of  helping  this  favorite  charity,  to  which  he 
willed  a  copy  of  Messiah,  and  he  served  as  a  governor  of  the  insti- 
tution for  many  years.  As  Hogarth  was  likewise  a  governor,  the 
Foundling  Hospital  was  served  by  the  two  greatest  geniuses  in 

In  August,  1750,  Handel  made  his  last  trip  to  the  Continent.  He 
was  sixty-five  years  old,  and  must  have  wanted  to  see  the  scenes  of 
his  childhood  for  the  last  time.  Just  outside  The  Hague  his  coach 
overturned,  and  he  was  severely  injured.  After  convalescing,  he 
proceeded  to  Halle,  where  he  found  Wilhelm  Friedemann  Bach — 
whose  illustrious  father  had  died  only  a  few  months  before — pre- 
siding in  Zachau's  place  at  the  Liebfrauenkirche  organ.  Handel 
was  soon  back  in  London.  At  first  he  was  too  sick  to  work,  but  in 
January  began  to  compose  his  last  oratorio,  Jephtha.  While  he  was 
working  on  the  final  chorus  of  the  second  part,  "How  dark,  O 
Lord,  are  Thy  decrees,"  he  received  the  first  serious  warning  of 
impending  blindness.  Despite  the  ministrations  of  three  doctors, 
his  sight  grew  dimmer  rapidly,  and  on  January  27,  1753,  the 
Theatrical  Register  told  the  tragic  outcome:  "Mr,  Handel  has  at 
length,  unhappily,  quite  lost  his  sight."  Rather  confused  records 
suggest  that  John  Taylor,  who  did  his  worst  on  Bach,  also  operated 
unsuccessfully  on  Handel's  eyes.* 

Handel  the  composer  was  through.  But  though  the  creative 
spark  was  extinct,  the  old  man  did  not  give  up.  He  was  the  greatest 
of  living  organists,  and  almost  until  the  last  day  of  his  life  con- 
tinued his  wonderful  virtuoso  performances.  In  1753  he  played 
all  of  his  organ  concertos  from  memory.  Year  after  year  he  revived 
his  oratorios  to  packed  houses,  conducting  and  accompanying 
them  at  the  organ.  At  last,  after  years  of  disappointment  and  bad 
luck,  he  had  acquired  the  touch  of  Midas.  Better  still,  he  was  loved 
by  all  London:  by  1759  the  figure  of  this  enormously  fat  old  man, 
scarcely  able  to  walk  a  step  unassisted,  seemed  almost  as  much 
part  of  the  landscape  as  the  Tower  and  Westminster  Abbey.  He 
celebrated  his  seventy-fourth  birthday  in  the  midst  of  his  most 
successful  season.  On  April  6,  with  mastery  unimpaired,  he  pre- 

*  One  eminent  authority,  however,  believes  that  Handel  retained  a  vestige  of 
*s%ht  tintil  his  death. 


sided  at  a  performance  of  Messiah  at  Covent  Garden.  Yet  all  was 
not  well.  In  one  section  he  faltered,  but  recovered  himself  adroitly. 
Scarcely  had  the  final  amen  been  sung  when  he  fainted,  and  was 
carried  to  his  house  in  Brook  Street.  As  he  lingered  in  his  last 
agony,,  he  said,  "I  want  to  die  on  Good  Friday  in  the  hope  of  re- 
joining the  good  God,  my  sweet  Lord  and  Saviour,  on  the  day  of 
his  Resurrection."  Actually,  he  died  early  in  the  morning  of  Holy 
Saturday,  April  14,  1759. 

Handel  had  expressed  in  his  will  a  desire  to  be  buried  in  the 
Abbey,  and  his  wish  was  enthusiastically  carried  out.  Six  days 
after  his  death,  at  eight  o'clock  in  the  evening,  he  was  lowered  into 
his  place  among  England's  great,  in  the  presence  of  three  thousand 
uninvited  mourners,  while  the  combined  voices  of  the  Gentlemen 
of  the  Chapel  Royal  and  the  choirs  of  St.  Paul's  and  the  Abbey 
sang  the  dirge. 

The  best  proof  of  Handel's  unique  sovereignty  over  English 
music  was  furnished  by  his  posthumous  glorification.  That  at  his 
death  he  was  well  beloved  and  greatly  honored  is  unquestioned;  a 
few  years  later,  he  was  a  god,  or  in  less  pagan  parlance,  a  saint. 
The  official  canonization  took  place  in  1784,  when  a  five-day 
commemoration  was  arranged  on  an  unprecedented  scale.  George 
III,  assisted  by  a  committee  of  noblemen,  was  the  moving  spirit  of 
the  fete,  during  which  Messiah  was  given  twice  in  the  Abbey.  So 
elaborate  were  the  ceremonies  that  Dr.  Burney  wrote  an  account 
of  them  some  months  later,  to  which  Dr.  Johnson  contributed  the 
dedication  to  the  King.  It  proved  to  be  the  Grand  Cham's  last 
effort,  and  before  the  pamphlet  actually  appeared  he  too  was  dead. 
The  Handel  Commemoration  was  the  death  knell  of  the  eighteenth 
century:  even  as  the  mighty  amens  of  Messiah  rolled  away  into 
silence,  the  first  premonitions  of  the  French  Revolution  were 
rumbling  across  the  Channel. 

Although  popular  enthusiasm  for  Handel  continued  unabated, 
it  was  not  until  1857 — the  year  of  the  Indian  Mutiny— that  the 
English  actually  got  around  to  staging  the  first  of  the  well-known 
festivals  that  have  been  the  admiration  and  despair  of  critics,  ac- 
cording to  their  points  of  view.  The  lamentable  story  of  this 
musical  elephantiasis  can  be  compressed  into  the  fact  that  while 
Handel  himself  presented  Messiah  with  a  chorus  and  orchestra 
numbering  about  thirty  performers  each,  at  recent  festivals  the 

84  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

chorus  has  swollen  to  four  thousand  voices  "supported"  by  an 
orchestra  of  five  hundred  pieces.  The  Gargantuan  scale  of  these 
performances  is  not  so  fatal  to  Handel's  intention  as  the  flagrant 
disproportion  of  the  choral  and  orchestral  elements.  The  directors 
of  these  festivals,  from  Sir  Michael  Costa  to  Sir  Henry  J.  Wood, 
might  well  have  remembered  that  Handel  himself,  supreme 
master  of  the  grand  effect,  never,  except  in  the  single  instance  of 
the  Firework  Music — an  outdoor  performance — set  out  to  make  as 
much  noise  as  possible. 

However,  to  offset  this  gaudy  festival  picture,  England  boasts 
a  thriving  and  intelligent  Handel  Society  which,  since  1882,  has 
presented  most  of  the  oratorios  under  the  direction  of  excellent 
musicians.  Germany  has  contributed  an  edition  of  Handel  edited 
by  the  great  enthusiast  Chrysander,  which  falls  short  of  the  mag- 
nificent Gesellschaft  Bach,  but  is  nevertheless  a  monument  to  one 
man's  untiring  industry  and  patient  research.  In  America,  how- 
ever, popular  knowledge  stops  short  with  Messiah — occasional 
presentations  of  a  few  other  works  do  not  alter  the  fact  that 
Handel  is,  in  this  country,  the  most  neglected  of  the  truly  great 
composers.  Bach,  now  that  he  is  widely  known,  is  unlikely  ever  to 
give  place  to  another  on  that  high  seat  to  which  public  esteem  has 
exalted  him.  But  the  day  cannot  be  far  distant  when  familiarity 
with  the  manifold  facets  of  Handel's  genius  will  elevate  him  to  his 
rightful  place  a  small  step  below  that  of  his  great  contemporary. 

Chapter  IV 

Christoph  Willibald  von  Gluck 

(Erasbach,  July  2,  lyi^November  15,  1787,  Vienna) 

THE  Renaissance,  which  invented  so  many  things,  also  invented 
opera.  It  all  happened  quite  accidentally.  The  legend  is — and 
for  once  the  legend  is  true — that  at  the  dawn  of  the  seventeenth 
century  Count  Bardi  and  a  group  of  smart  young  Florentines,  wist- 
ful for  the  past,  decided  to  stage  dramatic  adaptations  of  Greek 
myth  as  the  Greeks  had  staged  Aeschylus  and  Euripides.  They 
fondly  believed  they  had  found  the  Greek  formula — and  who 
knows? — maybe  they  had.  Believing  that  the  ancient  actors  had 
declaimed  their  lines  in  a  style  halfway  between  speech  and  song, 
they  invented  recitative,  that  is,  they  guided  the  rising  and  falling 
cadences  of  the  players  by  means  of  musical  notes.  Whenever  they 
felt  inclined  to  interrupt  the  narrative,  they  wrote  a  set  piece  either 
for  the  singing  voice  or  to  accompany  dancing,  which  ultimately 
developed  into  the  operatic  aria  and  the  operatic  ballet  respec- 
tively. In  the  glorious  sunset  of  Italian  vocal  polyphony,  Count 
Bardi's  young  men  showed  their  independence,  and  possibly  some 
real  knowledge  of  the  role  and  nature  of  the  music  used  at  Greek 
dramatic  performances,  by  adopting  a  simple  homophonic  style. 
With  doubtless  a  full  appreciation  of  the  many-voiced,  ingeniously 
interwoven  music  Palestrina  had  lately  brought  to  a  triumphant 
maturity,  they  nevertheless  chose  the  single  spare  line  of  accom- 
panied melody. 

A  few  years  after  these  experiments  at  the  Palazzo  Bardi,  Claudio 
Monteverdi  shrewdly  made  use  of  the  tentative  form  that  had  been 
evolved.  He  was  more  talented  and  resourceful  than  the  first  pio- 
neers of  opera:  several  musical  ideas  that  were  eventually  made 
much  of  appear  in  his  operas  in  rudimentary  form.  He  wrote  the 
first  operatic  duet.  He  even  sired  a  remote  ancestor  of  the  Wag- 
nerian  leitmotiv.  The  rest  of  his  technical  accomplishments  may 
be  left  to  the  musical  archeologist.  What  concerns  us  is  that  he 
wrote,  in  both  his  operas  and  his  madrigals,  some  music  that  can 
still  be  heard  by  courtesy  of  something  better  than  mere  historical 
curiosity.  His  U Incoronazione  di  Poppaea  has  recently  been  revived 


86  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

with  modest  success:  it  is  probably  the  earliest  opera  to  survive  the 
discriminating  hand  of  time. 

Until  1637,  when  the  first  public  opera  house  was  opened  in 
Venice.,  opera  was  the  plaything  of  the  nobility.  Then  the  people 
took  it  up,  and  before  the  end  of  the  century  Italy  was  dotted  with 
opera  houses.  Within  a  hundred  years  it  became  the  principal  dis- 
traction— and  besetting  sin — of  the  Italians,  because  it  allowed 
such  ample  scope  to  the  national  gift  for  facile  melody.  As  it  in- 
creased in  popularity,  opera  changed  its  character.  Abandoning 
the  archaic  dramatic  gusto  of  Monteverdi,  it  tended  to  become 
prettified  and  overelaborate — a  mere  showpiece  for  the  fantasti- 
cally flexible  voices  of  the  times.  This  coincided  with  the  discovery 
that  castrati,  originally  used  to  enhance  the  sexless  character  of 
religious  music,  could  outdo  even  their  most  spectacular  female 
rivals  in  coloratura  tricks.  Some  of  the  music  written  for  these 
freak  voices  is  so  difficult  that  it  can  no  longer  be  sung.  By  the  end 
of  the  seventeenth  century  5  Italian  opera  had  degenerated  into  a 
contest  between  rival  songbirds,  and  had  lost  the  little  dramatic 
integrity  it  once  had. 

In  France,  things  were  no  better.  Opera,  which  became  the 
vogue  under  the  iron  dictatorship  of  Louis  XIV's  Italian  favorite, 
Jean-Baptiste  Lully,  did  not  suffer  from  the  empty  contests  of  cas- 
trati  (who  never  flourished  in  France),  but  fell  into  the  hands  of 
the  masters  of  stage  effects.  Lully's  operas,  which  often  possess  sin- 
gle numbers  that  are  most  moving  and  impressive,  are  dramatically 
absurd — the  attention  is  inevitably  distracted  by  the  goings-on  of 
the  ponderous  stage  machines.  Hannibal  crosses  the  Alps,  rivers 
overflow  their  banks,  cities  go  up  in  smoke,  fountains  play;  of  a 
piece  with  these  bewildering  scenic  cataclysms,  the  meaningless 
plot  goes  cluelessly  on. 

Italian  opera  at  its  most  inane  held  the  rest  of  Europe  in  a 
stranglehold.  In  the  German-speaking  countries,  Italians  and  Ital- 
ianized natives  ground  out  servile  imitations  of  the  Southern  pat- 
tern. In  England,  Purcell,  the  one  man  with  a  marked  talent  for 
dramatic  music,  wrote  a  single  opera,  and  died  young.  Dido  and 
Aeneas  had  no  progeny:  the  Italians  therefore  annexed  England  as 
easily  as  they  had  Germany.  Handel,  complacently  accepting  the 
conventions  of  opera  as  he  found  it,  was  not  able  to  beat  the  Ital- 
ians at  their  own  game.  His  genius  for  the  dramatic  found  its 

GLUCK  87 

proper  scope  only  when  he  abandoned  opera  for  oratorio,  in  which 
he  invented  his  own  conventions. 

It  has  often  been  asked  why  opera,  which  almost  from  its  incep- 
tion recruited  the  services  of  first-rate  composers,  languished  so 
long  and  so  smugly  in  a  state  of  complete  inanity.  The  answer  is 
that  its  patrons  liked  it  just  as  it  was.  Even  more  than  today,  the 
opera  was  then  a  social  affair.  People  went  to  see  and  to  be  seen, 
to  watch  the  amazing  stage  business  as  children  watch  a  circus, 
and  to  take  sides  in  the  quarrels  between  rival  castrati  and  prima 
donnas.  The  noble  and  the  moneyed  sipped  beverages  in  their 
loges,  diced,  or  played  cards,  and  discussed  politics.  The  famous 
President  de  Brosses  considered  the  opera  merely  a  distraction 
from  a  too  great  passion  for  chess.  These  much  admired  eighteenth- 
century  bluestockings  and  philosophes  turned  their  languid  atten- 
tion to  the  stage  only  when  some  unwieldy  engine  was  erupting 
over  a  papier-mache  Pompeii,  when  a  Faustina  or  a  Farinelli  was 
carrying  a  tortuous  roulade  beyond  the  compass  of  the  human  ear, 
or  when  a  hummable  tune  they  already  knew  from  a  dozen  previ- 
ous operas  was  being  resung.  With  such  excellent  diversions,  why 
should  operagoers  have  ever  asked  for  anything  more?  As  a  matter 
of  fact,  they  eventually  got  something  more  not  because  they  asked 
for  it,  but  because  the  feeble  protests  of  a  few  musical  progressives, 
hitherto  lost  in  the  din  of  rattling  chessmen,  grinding  wheels,  and 
screeching  sopranos  of  both  sexes,  finally  found,  in  Ghristoph 
Willibald  von  Gluck,  a  champion  with  vigor  and  genius. 

Gluck's  vigor  is  easier  to  account  for  than  his  genius:  his  par- 
ents came  from  peasant  stock  with  a  long  tradition  as  upper  serv- 
ants to  the  nobility.  They  were  of  mixed  German  and  Bohemian 
blood.  The  father  was  a  forester,  and  seems  to  have  been  in  much 
demand,  for  he  was  constantly  on  the  move.  Until  his  eighteenth 
year,  when  he  went  to  Prague,  Gluck  led  a  more  or  less  outdoor 
life,  picking  up  scraps  of  education  where  he  could.  Of  his  youth 
nothing  beyond  the  usual  assortment  of  cut-and-dried  conjectures 
is  known.  It  is  not  even  certain  what  he  did  in  Prague  outside  of 
supporting  himself  by  giving  music  lessons  and  playing  the  organ, 
but  it  is  fairly  obvious  that  he  had  already  acquired  a  haphazard 
musical  education.  Also,  in  Prague  he  must  have  heard  opera,  par- 
ticularly the  works  of  the  most  popular  composer  of  the  day— 
Johann  Adolf  Hasse,  the  fortunate  husband  of  the  lovely  Faustina, 

88  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

These  slick  musical  nosegays,  the  favored  vehicle  of  the  peerless 
castrato,  Farinelli,  made  a  deep  impression  on  Gluck. 

In  1736,  Gluck  went  to  Vienna,  where  he  was  received  into  the 
palace  of  Prince  Lobkowitz,  his  father's  liege  lord,  as  a  chamber 
musician.  In  the  capital  he  was  exposed  to  nothing  but  Italianate 
music,  and  within  a  year  was  off  to  Milan  in  the  private  orchestra 
of  a  Lombard  noble  of  exalted  rank.  Here  he  took  what  were  prob- 
ably his  first  serious  musical  lessons  from  Giovanni  Battista  Sam- 
martini,  who  has  come  in  for  a  lot  of  jingoistic  praise  in  recent 
years  as  a  precursor  of  Haydn — who,  though  invariably  generous 
in  his  estimates,  summed  him  up  as  a  c "bungler."  The  effect  on 
Gluck  of  Sammartini,  primarily  an  instrumental  composer,  was 
rather  enigmatic:  after  studying  with  him  for  four  years,  Gluck 
wrote  his  first  opera,  Artaserse,  to  some  shopworn  doggerel  by  Metas- 
tasio,  the  busiest  librettist  of  the  age.  The  music  is  lost,  yet  it  is 
easy  to  imagine  what  it  must  have  been  like — not  too  good  an 
imitation  of  Hasse  further  obscuring  the  tortuosities  of  a  long  and 
rambling  libretto.  But  it  got  Gluck  a  big  following,  and  he  found 
in  it  the  idiom  he  was  to  use  more  or  less  unquestioningly  for  the 
next  thirty  years. 

By  1 745  Gluck  had  composed  ten  operas,  all  of  which  were  en- 
thusiastically received  by  the  uncritical  Italian  audiences.  They 
contained  no  hint  of  any  dissatisfaction  with  the  established  mode 
of  writing  opera.  Only  one  of  them,  Ipermestra,  survives  in  entirety, 
and  it  shows  the  feebleness  of  the  technique  he  was  content  to  use. 
Yet  his  fame  spread  widely,  and  late  in  1745  he  was  invited  to 
London  to  compose  operas  for  the  Haymarket  Theater.  If  the 
noble  lessee  of  the  Haymarket  hoped  that  Gluck  would  initiate  a 
renascence  of  Italian  opera  in  England,  he  was  sadly  mistaken. 
Gluck3  s  stage  pieces  were  too  wishy-washy  for  the  sharpened  taste 
of  London  audiences,  used  now  to  the  richer  diet  of  Handel's  great 
oratorios.  Tovey  flatly  says,  "Gluck  at  this  time  was  rather  less 
than  an  ordinary  producer  of  Italian  opera,"  and  there  is  no  mys- 
tery about  his  failure  in  England. 

Handel  received  Gluck  with  bearish  good  humor,  and  roughly 
consoled  him  for  his  ill  fortune,  remarking  cynically  that  he  had 
taken  too  much  trouble  for  English  audiences,  who  understood 
music  only  when  it  sounded  like  a  big  drum.  But  this  was  Handel 
in  one  of  his  notorious  half-truthful  moods,  and  he  was  probably 

GLUCK  89 

being  as  serious  as  when  he  said,  "Gluck  knows  no  more  counter- 
point than  my  cook."  (The  cook,  incidentally,  was  an  excellent 
bass  singer,  who  had  appeared  successfully  in  many  of  Handel's 
operas,  and  was  doubtless  harmonically  aware.)  But  there  was  a 
deep  truth  underlying  Handel's  flippancy:  Gluck  was  always  tech- 
nically insecure,  and  even  years  later,  after  he  had  mastered  the 
fundamentals  of  his  mature  style,  his  technique  often  limped  be- 
hind his  intentions. 

Up  until  his  London  visit,  Gluck's  success  had  been  so  uniform 
that  he  had  had  no  reason  to  examine  the  esthetic  bases  of  his  art. 
He  was  a  shameless  writer  of  pasticci,  those  monstrous  hashes  made 
up  of  pieces  taken  from  older  works  and  set  to  a  new  libretto.  But 
he  took  HandePs  criticism  to  heart,  and  his  failure  with  London 
audiences  gave  him  even  greater  pause.  The  man's  complacency 
was  jolted.  He  reacted  characteristically:  endowed  with  a  keen 
mind,  he  was  slow  on  the  uptake,  and  had  to  mull  ideas  over  for 
years  before  taking  action.  His  bitter  London  experience  and  his 
admiration  for  Handel  and,  to  a  lesser  degree,  for  Jean-Philippe 
Rameau,  whom  he  met  in  Paris  at  about  the  same  time,  influenced 
the  forming  of  his  mature  style — twenty  years  later.  In  the  mean- 
time, he  went  on  grinding  out  imitation  Hasse  that  could  have 
been  produced  by  a  man  who  never  stopped  to  think  at  all. 

Until  1761 — that  is,  for  more  than  fifteen  years — the  history  of 
Gluck's  mind  is  one  of  silent  growth,  so  silent,  in  fact,  that  few 
realized  that  anything  at  all  was  happening  to  him.  To  all  out- 
ward appearance,  he  continued  his  humdrum  round,  turning  out 
ephemeral  stage  pieces  of  all  sorts.  His  mediocre  compositions  being 
much  in  demand,  he  traveled  extensively;  at  home  in  Vienna,  he 
was  often  about  the  court.  All  this  activity  was  superficial.  Actu- 
ally, he  was  educating  himself,  pondering  the  esthetic  bases  of 
dramatic  music,  and  gradually  coming  to  those  conclusions  that 
would  revolutionize  the  whole  art  of  opera.  He  was  studying  for- 
eign languages  and  letters,  and  gaining  a  working  knowledge  of 
French  by  writing  opera  comique.  Finally,  he  was  cultivating  an  ac- 
quaintance among  the  cognoscenti.  In  short,  his  own  innate  bent 
toward  things  intellectual,  stultified  in  his  extremely  active  youth, 
was  now  asserting  itself. 

Even  Gluck's  choice  of  a  wife  reflects  his  ruling  mental  passion: 
Marianne  Pergin,  whom  he  married  in  1750,  was  no  beauty.  Their 

gO  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

marriage,  though  childless  (according  to  Dr.  Alfred  Einstein  be- 
cause of  a  venereal  infection  Gluck  had  contracted  from  a  wanton 
singer),  was  apparently  happy,  doubtless  because  Frau  Gluck  was 
something  of  an  Aspasia.  One  of  the  few  surviving  double  portraits 
of  a  composer  and  his  wife  shows  Gluck  and  his  Marianne  at  table? 
enjoying  a  drink  together.  His  marriage  is  important  from  a  mu- 
sical point  of  view  mainly  because  his  wife's  dowry  freed  him  for- 
ever from  money  worries,  so  that  when  his  phlegmatic  develop- 
ment was  at  last  consummated,  he  could  write  the  operas  he 
wanted  without  fear  of  the  economic  consequences. 

Gluck  shared  with  Mozart  the  not  very  high  distinction  of  re- 
ceiving the  Golden  Spur,  a  low-grade  papal  order.  Unlike  Mozart, 
who  never  paraded  his  insignificant  knighthood,  he  thenceforth 
signed  himself  Ritter  von  Gluck.  Appropriately,  he  received  his 
Golden  Spur  not  for  one  of  his  great  operas,  but  for  a  tawdry  piece 
of  musical  fustian.  It  merely  happened  that  Benedict  XIV,  really 
quite  an  astute  man  otherwise,  took  a  fancy  to  the  mediocre  opera 
called  Antigono.  But  the  Golden  Spur  was  the  least  important  in- 
cident of  Gluck's  Roman  sojourn  of  1756,  for  here  he  joined  the 
circle  of  Cardinal  Albani,  and  met  Winckelmann,  the  inspired  re- 
suscitator  of  a  fake  classicism.  Even  though  Winckelmann's  Greece 
was  unlike  anything  ever  on  land  or  sea,  it  profoundly  attracted 
Gluck.  It  was  a  convention  of  Italian  opera  to  set  almost  nothing 
but  classical  subjects,  but  the  classicism  of  Gluck's  mature  operas 
shows  a  glimpse  of  antiquity  that,  however  distorted,  could  only 
have  come  from  the  epochal  Geschichte  der  Kunst  des  Alterthumsy 
which  was  then  being  conceived  in  Winckelmann's  gigantic  but 
mistaken  intellect. 

Gluck  is  always  called  the  reformer  of  opera:  it  is  not  so  well 
known  that  he  first  tried  his  hand  at  reforming  ballet.  In  trying  to 
understand  why  his  first  thunderbolt  was  cast  where  it  was,  it  must 
be  remembered  that  the  date  of  Don  Juan  (1761),  his  great  ballet 
and  the  first  of  his  mature  works  for  the  theater,  coincided  with 
Noverre's  impassioned  plea  for  a  reformed  ballet.  This  noted  French 
dancer  and  ballet  master,  while  revolutionizing  the  actual  tech- 
nique of  ballet  dancing,  wanted  dramatic  music  and  eloquent 
action.  Anyone  who  has  suffered  through  that  long-drawn-out 
Chopinesque  swoon  known  as  Le$  Sylphides  can  understand  what 
Noverre  was  up  against.  Although  he  did  not  dance  in  it,  and  in 

GLUGK  91 

fact  had  nothing  to  do  with  it,  Don  Juan  effectually  answered  his 
plea.  To  start  with,  the  librettist-choreographer  had  cleverly  retold 
Moliere's  Le  Festin  de  pierre  in  danceable  terms.  With  a  suddenness 
that  has  led  many  to  the  improbable  conclusion  that  he  changed 
overnight,  Gluck  produced  music  showing  that  the  ideas  which 
had  been  brewing  so  long  in  his  mind  had  at  last  fermented.  He 
went  far  toward  making  the  music  and  the  story  one,  mainly  by 
throwing  overboard  the  meaningless  conventions  that  had  been 
the  curse  of  ballet  music.  Almost  for  the  first  time  in  its  history,  the 
stage  had  recruited  a  composer  willing  and  able  to  place  his  brains 
as  well  as  his  purely  musical  talents  at  its  disposal. 

Having  experimented  successfully  with  ballet,  Gluck  turned  back 
to  opera.  Hitherto  he  had  set  little  else  than  Metastasio,  whose 
librettos  had  not  only  cornered  the  market,  but  were  used  over  and 
over  again.  But  with  their  tortured  conceits  and  lifeless  artifice, 
these  were  not  suitable  for  the  musical  dramas  Gluck  was  con- 
templating. At  this  juncture,  Raniero  da  Calzabigi,  one  of  Metas- 
tasio's  most  outspoken  critics,  turned  up  with  the  right  sort  of 
libretto.  The  initiative  for  this  happy  collaboration  came  from  Cal- 
zabigi, and  there  are  writers  who  believe  that  he,  rather  than 
Gluck,  should  be  credited  with  the  reform  of  opera.  But  it  is  not 
reasonable  to  assume  that  in  1762,  when  Gluck  wrote  Orfeo  ed 
Euridice,  he  should  suddenly  have  pulled  an  eminently  successful 
dramatic  opera  out  of  the  blue:  Calzabigi  merely  touched  fire  to 
well-seasoned  kindling. 

Orfeo  ed  Euridice,  while  retaining  much  of  the  old-style  diction, 
departed  from  Metastasio  in  telling  a  simple  story  in  dramatic 
terms.  The  sweet  singer  Orpheus  mourns  his  dead  wife,  Eurydice; 
the  gods  permit  him  to  bring  her  back  from  the  Elysian  Fields  if 
he  will  not  look  at  her  before  they  reach  daylight.  But  Eurydice's 
pleadings  force  him  to  break  his  vow,  and  she  dies  again.  In  de- 
fiance of  the  classical  legend,  Calzabigi  then  has  Amor  restore  her 
to  life,  and  the  opera  ends  happily,  not  without  loss  of  dramatic 
verity.  Care  has  been  taken  to  give  each  character  music  that 
really  expresses  him — music  that  subtly  changes  with  each  new 
situation.  But  we  must  listen  carefully  to  realize  that  we  are  hear- 
ing dramatic  music — must  listen  with  innocent  ears.  We  must  not 
expect  to  hear  the  protagonists  shouting  at  the  top  of  their  voices 
as  in  Wagner  and  Strauss.  This  is  drama  as  the  ancients  knew  it — 

Q2  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

decorous,  stylized,  restrained.  We  must  discard  temporarily  the 
conventions  of  modern  music  drama,  and  judge  Orfeo  ed  Euridice 
and  Gluck's  five  other  masterpieces  within  the  framework  of  their 

But  to  respond  to  the  purely  musical  charm  of  Gluck  no  such 
adjustment  is  needed.  Orfeo  is  an  excellent  introduction  to  the 
greater  Gluck.  Unfortunately  for  him  who  is  being  introduced  to 
this  noble  style,  however,  it  opens  unpromisingly  with  one  of 
Gluck' s  dullest  overtures,  anything  but  expressive  of  what  is  to 
follow.  But  after  the  brief  first  act  comes  a  scene  Gluck  never  sur- 
passed in  dramatic  intensity:  Orpheus,  finding  his  way  to  the  Ely- 
sian  Fields  blocked  by  a  chorus  of  Furies,  pleads  with  the  infernal 
sentinels  to  allow  him  to  pass.  As  his  ineffably  poignant  song  pro- 
ceeds, they  interrupt  him  with  shouts  of  "No!"  The  exquisite 
strains  reduce  even  them  to  submission,  and  the  gates  open.  Al- 
most immediately,  before  the  spell  of  this  superb  scene  has  worn 
off,  we  hear  the  serene  and  solemn  "Dance  of  the  Blessed  Spirits," 
the  most  affecting  music  Gluck  ever  composed  for  instruments 
alone.  The  thin,  pure  line  of  the  flute  achieves  a  particular  kind  of 
magic  here — the  essence  of  that  fabled  "peace  which  passeth  all 
understanding" — that  is  unique  in  the  whole  realm  of  music.  Here 
Gluck,  whose  gifts  are  not  always  purely  musical,  stands  on  the 
loftiest  heights  with  the  very  greatest  of  the  masters. 

After  the  two  magnificent  scenes  of  the  second  act,  almost  any 
third  act  would  have  seemed  flat.  Orfeo's  suffers  undeservedly  both 
from  its  position  in  the  opera  and  from  the  fact  that  the  libretto 
trails  off  into  an  absurd,  tacked-on  happy  ending.  Gluck  might 
better  have  rung  the  curtain  down  as  Eurydice  dies — except  for 
one  thing:  the  deathless  aria  Che  faro  senza  Euridice.  By  modern 
standards,  this  is  not  a  very  dramatic  aria:  measured,  for  instance, 
against  the  Liebestod,  it  sounds  lyric  rather  than  dramatic.  The 
point  is  that  sung  in  the  proper  tempo,*  and  by  a  real  artist,  it  is 
irresistible,  and  seems  the  only  possible  expression  of  Orpheus' 
grief.  As  Alfred  Einstein  has  well  said,  "It  is  devoid  of  pathos  be- 
cause ...  it  transcends  all  expression."  After  this  great  melody 
has  been  sung,  those  who  have  the  heart  may  remain  to  witness,  in 

*  Gluck  himself  admitted  that  taking  the  aria  at  a  wrong  tempo  would  reduce  it  to 
a  merry-go-round  tune,  and  critics,  enlarging  on  this  point,  have  said  that  taken  a 
shade  faster,  it  might  better  be  sung  to  joyful  words — "I've  found  my  Eurydice," 
for  example. 

GLUCK  93 

the  concluding  ballet  and  general  jollification,  the  very  inanities 
against  which  Gluck  had  struck  the  first  blow  in  this  selfsame  opera. 

Orfeo  ed  Euridice  was  first  produced  at  Vienna  on  October  5, 
1 762.  It  was  received  coldly,  but  within  a  year  a  strong  reaction  in 
its  favor  set  in.  By  1764  it  had  become  so  popular  that  it  was  used 
at  the  coronation  of  the  Archduke  Josef  as  King  of  the  Romans  at 
Frankfort,  where  the  young  Goethe,  who  was  on  hand  for  the 
ceremonies,  heard  it.  It  brought  Gluck  so  much  money  that  in  the 
same  year  he  was  able  to  give  up  the  position  of  Hqfkapellmeister 
Maria  Theresa  had  conferred  on  him  ten  years  before.  He  raised 
his  style  of  living,  moving  from  a  comfortable  but  unpretentious 
house  into  a  splendidly  appointed  one  in  a  fashionable  quarter  of 
Vienna.  Now,  instead  of  taking  the  next  logical  steps  after  Orfeo  9 
Gluck  immediately  reverted  to  the  old-fashioned  opera,  and  even 
gave  Metastasio  a  special  order  for  a  libretto.  For  the  next  five 
years  Gluck  served  up  silly  confections  and  gave  singing  lessons  at 
court,  one  of  his  pupils  being  the  young  Archduchess  Marie 

In  1766  Gluck  began  to  write  Alceste  to  a  Calzabigi  libretto.  By 
examining  the  probably  ghostwritten  dedication,  we  can  see  that 
Gluck  had  not  wasted  the  years  since  Orfeo:  he  had  raised  his 
previously  nebulous  feelings  about  operatic  reform  to  the  con- 
scious level.  This  brief  revolutionary  manifesto  is  one  of  the  most 
important  documents  in  musical  history.  "My  purpose,"  he  writes 
firmly,  "was  to  restrict  music  to  its  true  office,  that  of  ministering 
to  the  expression  of  the  poetry,  and  to  the  situations  of  the  plot, 
without  interrupting  the  action,  or  chilling  it  by  superfluous  and 
needless  ornamentation."  And  further,  "I  thought  that  my  most 
strenuous  efforts  must  be  directed  toward  a  noble  simplicity,  thus 
avoiding  a  parade  of  difficulty  at  the  expense  of  clearness.  I  did 
not  consider  a  mere  display  of  novelty  valuable  unless  naturally 
suggested  by  the  situation  and  the  expression,  and  on  this  point  no 
rule  in  composition  exists  that  I  would  not  have  gladly  sacrificed 
in  favor  of  the  effect  produced." 

Gluck  carried  out  these  ideas  in  Alceste  with  such  relentless  logic 
that  he  all  but  alienated  the  world  of  Vienna,  where  it  was  first 
produced  on  December  i63  1767.  The  plot  was  even  more  stark 
than  that  of  Orfeo:  King  Admetus  must  die  unless  he  can  find  a 
substitute;  Alcestis,  his  wife,  offers  her  life  for  his,  and  Admetus 

94  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

recovers.  When  Alcestis  dies,  Admetus  prepares  to  kill  himself. 
Apollo  appears,  and  revives  Alcestis.  This  story  offered  situations 
more  dramatic  than  those  ofOrfeo,  and  Gluck  fully  exploited  them. 
The  overture  marks  another  step  in  his  reform.  In  the  dedication 
he  had  written,  "My  idea  was  that  the  overture  should  prepare 
the  spectators  for  the  plot  to  be  represented,  and  give  some  indica- 
tion of  its  nature.39  This  the  Alceste  overture,  with  its  slow,  solemn, 
and  elevated  cadences,  does  perfectly.  While  the  necessity  of  an 
appropriate  overture  has  long  been  a  commonplace  of  opera,  it 
must  be  borne  in  mind  that  previous  to  Alceste  most  overtures  had 
been  mere  irrelevant  curtain  raisers.  Even  before  this  one  melts 
into  the  first  scene,  the  curtain  is  up.  Besides  the  overture,  only 
two  excerpts  can  be  familiar  to  even  the  most  faithful  concert- 
goers.  The  first  is  Alcestis'  grand  scene  of  renunciation  in  the  first 
act — "Divinitis  du  Styx,"*  which  by  its  nervous,  sensitive  changes  of 
tempo  exquisitely  mirrors  the  heroine's  shifting  emotions.  The 
other  is  Saint-Saens'  potpourri  of  ballet  tunes  from  the  opera, 
which  was  yesterday  a  hackneyed  stand-by  of  pianists  of  recital 
and  subrecital  stature. 

Like  Orfeo  ed  Euridice,  Alceste  got  a  chilly  reception  at  the  pre- 
miere. Probably  voicing  the  consensus,  one  member  of  the  audience 
said,  "For  nine  days  the  theater  has  been  closed,  and  on  the  tenth 
it  opens  with  a  Requiem."  Everybody  was  annoyed  with  Gluck: 
his  confreres  resented  his  attack  on  their  style  of  opera;  the  singers 
were  vexed  because  this  unadorned  music  gave  them  no  chance  to 
display  their  incredible  agility,  and  the  audience  was  bored  be- 
cause it  could  not  hear  the  singers  exercise.  Gluck5  s  patrons  trickled 
away:  scarcely  anyone  encouraged  him  to  persist  in  his  great  effort 
But  he  had  found  his  m6tier — and  he  was  a  very  stubborn  man 
when  he  finally  made  up  his  mind.  Even  as  his  critics  and  enemies 
multiplied,  he  turned  once  more  to  Calzabigi  for  the  libretto  of  an 
opera  that  would  shock  them  even  further. 

Paride  ed  Elena  is  not  the  best  of  Gluck's  operas,  but  it  is  in  one 
sense  the  most  dramatic.  Or  at  least  Calzabigi  and  Gluck  intended 
it  to  be.  The  dramatic  crux  is  the  conflict,  or  antithesis,  between 
two  civilizations,  the  Spartan  and  the  Phrygian.  Helen  is  a  pure, 
high-minded,  and  chaste  Grecian  maid,  Paris  a  voluptuous  and 
impulsive  Trojan  youth.  The  librettist  even  altered  the  legend, 

*  The  opening  words  of  the  aria  in  the  later  French  version  of  Alceste. 

GLUGK  95 

making  Helen  Menelaus'  fiancee  rather  than  his  wife,  in  order  to 
make  her  more  than  ever  a  goody-goody.  Unfortunately,  the  ac- 
tion does  not  measure  up  to  the  grandiose  scheme  of  racial  con- 
trast. As  Cupid  promises  Helen  to  Paris  early  in  the  first  act,  the 
only  reason  her  four  acts  of  prudish  protest  are  not  anticlimactic  is 
that  the  opera  has  no  climax.  The  music,  by  its  finely  drawn  con- 
trasts, partly  saves  the  stupid  plot.  The  alternation  of  numbers  in 
varying  modes  is  highly  effective,  and  the  love  music  is,  for  Gluck, 
convincingly  erotic.  Paris'  passionately  yearning  "0  del  mio  dolce 
ardor"  still  a  prime  favorite  in  the  recital  haU,  is  one  of  the  great 
love  songs  of  all  times,  but  it  is  a  pity  that  in  this  long  five-act  opera 
the  musical  climax  should  occur  in  the  first  act* 

Considering  its  palpable  defects,  it  is  no  wonder  that  Paride  ed 
Elena  was  a  failure.  Gluck  made  matters  worse  by  defying  public, 
colleagues,  critics,  and  singers  in  another  dedicatory  blast.  After 
defending  Alceste  and  calling  its  detractors  pedants,  he  flings  down 
the  gauntlet:  "I  do  not  expect  greater  success  from  my  Paride  than 
from  Alceste.)  at  least  in  my  purpose  to  effect  the  desired  change 
in  musical  composers;  on  the  contrary,  I  anticipate  greater  op- 
position than  ever;  but,  for  my  part,  this  shall  never  deter  me 
from  making  fresh  attempts  to  accomplish  my  good  design."  And 
he  winds  up  this  dedication  to  the  Duke  of  Braganga  with  the 
courtierlike  avowal  that  he  is  ready  to  take  it  on  the  chin  from 
the  general  public  so  long  as  he  has  one  Plato  to  encourage 

In  reality,  Gluck  was  bitterly  disappointed  at  the  public's  apathy 
and  open  hostility.  Nor  were  his  feelings  assuaged  when  Calzabigi 
generously  shouldered  the  blame  for  Paride  ed  Elena.  But  whereas 
Calzabigi  had  won  his  own  battle — diminishing  Metastasio's 
predominance — Gluck  had  reached  a  stalemate.  After  1 770,  when 
Paride  was  first  produced,  it  became  obvious  to  him  that  Vienna 
was  invincible  in  its  stupidity.  He  then  began  to  look  toward  Paris, 
which  had  already  been  put  in  a  receptive  mood  by  the  declama- 
tory style  of  Rameau.  So  seasoned  a  courtier  as  Gluck  had  no 
difficulty  in  pulling  the  proper  wires,  and  we  soon  find  him  on  the 
friendliest  terms  with  the  Bailli  du  Rollet,  secretary  of  the  French 
embassay  in  Vienna.  In  the  back  of  his  mind  was  the  fact  that  his 
former  pupil  was  now  the  pampered  and  all-powerful  wife  of  the 
Dauphin  Louis. 

96  MEN     OF     MUSIC 

Du  Rollet,  besides  being  a  first-rate  wangler,  also  had  literary 
ambitions,  which  the  politic  Gluck  was  pleased  to  further.  The 
Frenchman  now  became  his  librettist,  presenting  him  in  1 772  with 
Iphigenie  en  Aulide,  a  curious  hodgepodge  of  Racine,  legend,  and 
Du  Rollet.  Gluck  started  to  work  on  this  at  once,  and  by  the  end 
of  the  year  the  collaborators  prayerfully  forwarded  the  first  act  to 
Antoine  d'Auvergne,  a  director  of  the  Opera.  D'Auvergne  an- 
swered at  once,  saying  that  he  would  like  to  produce  the  opera, 
but  would  do  so  only  if  the  Chevalier  Gluck  would  undertake  to 
write  five  more  operas  for  him.  By  these  exacting  terms  he  doubt- 
less hoped  to  deter  a  man  who  was  almost  sixty  years  old.  On  the 
other  hand,  the  reason  he  gave  for  the  proviso — that  one  Gluck 
opera  would  drive  all  competitors  from  the  stage — was  so  flattering 
to  the  composer's  thirsting  ego  that  he.  decided  to  force  the  issue. 
Realizing  that  he  was  too  old  to  guarantee  five  more  operas,  he 
induced  Marie  Antoinette  to  command  the  staging  of  Iphigenie  en 
Aulide.  His  royal  friend  did  her  work  so  well  that  by  the  end  of 
1773  he  received  an  invitation  to  come  to  Paris  to  direct  the  opera 
on  his  own  exceedingly  favorable  terms. 

Early  in  1774,  Gluck  and  his  wife,  with  his  highly  talented  niece, 
whom  they  had  adopted  some  years  before,  set  out  for  Paris.  They 
stopped  in  Karlsruhe  to  visit  the  poet  Klopstock,  then  at  the  height 
of  his  fame,  and  by  early  spring  were  in  the  French  capital.  Gluck 
worked  himself  to  a  shadow  during  the  rehearsals  of  Iphigenie: 
there  were  all  the  usual  difficulties  with  singers,  orchestra,  and 
managers,  and  on  several  occasions  Marie  Antoinette  had  to  soothe 
ruffled  feelings  all  round.  The  peerless  Sophie  Arnould,  who  was  to 
sing  Iphigenia,  was  so  intractable  that  once  Gluck  threatened  to 
return  to  Vienna  if  she  did  not  follow  instructions.  But  ultimately 
all  obstacles  were  overcome:  the  most  dangerous  critics  were  pla- 
cated in  advance,  and  even  the  savage  Jean-Jacques  Rousseau,  for 
long  the  champion  of  Italianate  opera,  was  won  over  by  carefully 
directed  flattery. 

On  April  19,  1774,  Iphigenie  en  Aulide  was  produced  at  the  Op6ra. 
Gluck  must  have  risen  to  conduct  with  a  mind  full  of  doubts  and 
questions.  Would  Arnould,  as  usual,  sing  off  pitch?  Was  Legros 
really  too  ill  to  do  justice  to  the  tempestuous  role  of  Achilles? 
Would  the  phlegmatic  Larrivee,  by  some  miracle,  make  Agamem- 

GLUCK  97 

non  come  to  life?  During  rehearsals  Gluck  had  torn  his  hair  as 
Larrivee  listlessly  walked  through  the  part,  but  the  baritone  had 
said  loftily,  "Wait  till  I  get  into  my  costume — you  won't  recognize 
me  then."  But  when,  at  dress  rehearsal,  Larrivee  was  as  wooden  as 
ever,  Gluck  had  called  out,  "Oh,  Larrivee,  Larrivee,  I  recognize 
you!"  And  finally  there  was  the  problem  of  Vestris,  le  dieu  de  la 
danse,  who  had  once  boasted  that  the  three  greatest  men  in  Europe 
were  Frederick  the  Great,  Voltaire,  and  himself.  If  he  had  had  Ms 
own  way,  Iphigenie  en  Aulide  would  have  been  more  ballet  than 
opera.  One  by  one,  Gluck  had  squelched  his  demands,  even  refus- 
ing his  piteous  appeal  for  a  chaconne  at  the  end  of  the  opera. 
"Whenever  did  the  Greeks  dance  a  chaconne?"  Gluck  had  asked 
witheringly.  But  Vestris  was  not  to  be  withered.  "Oh,  didn't 
they?"  he  replied  haughtily.  "So  much  the  worse  for  them!" 

Iphigenie  triumphed  at  once.  Despite  certain  glaring  absurdities 
in  the  libretto,  and  not  a  few  arid  stretches  in  the  music,  Paris 
momentarily  took  the  Chevalier  Gluck  to  its  heart.  At  the  premiere 
the  overture,  generally  considered  the  finest  he  composed,  was  en- 
thusiastically encored.  At  one  point  the  music  and  action  were  so 
convincing  that  some  hotheaded  officers  in  the  audience  were 
ready  to  rush  onto  the  stage  and  rescue  Iphigenia.  The  score  is 
rich — almost  too  rich — in  fine  airs,  which  sometimes  come  in  clus- 
ters of  three,  thereby  tending  to  interrupt  the  flow  of  the  action. 
.Although  there  were  disturbing  errors  of  taste  in  Alexander 
Smallens'  revival  some  years  back  of  what  might  more  appropri- 
ately have  been  called  Iphigenie  en  Philadelphie,  enough  of  Gluck's 
intention  came  through  to  convince  the  audience  that  it  was  hav- 
ing an  esthetic  experience  of  the  first  rank.  The  whole  effect  of  the 
opera  is  one  of  archaic  grandeur,  sustained  by  sculptured  declama- 
tion and  a  loftiness  of  effect  that  rarely  falters  even  when  purely 
musical  inspiration  flags. 

The  witty  Abbe  Arnaud  had  remarked  of  one  bit  from  Iphigenie, 
"With  that  air  one  might  found  a  religion,"  and,  indeed,  the 
Parisians  were  not  slow  in  founding  one,  its  devotees  being  known 
as  Gluckists,  though  all  Paris  did  not  worship  at  this  shrine.  Some 
months  later,  Gluck  was  ready  with  a  French  version  of  his  Orfeo, 
with  the  hero's  part  transposed  for  Legros,  a  tenor,  as  there  was 
no  male  contralto  to  sing  the  part  as  originally  written.  This 

98  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

change  of  key  spoiled  many  of  Gluck's  finest  effects,*  but  the 
Parisians  liked  Orphee  et  Eurydice  even  better  than  Iphigenie.  On  the 
crest  of  this  unflawed  success^  with  his  celebrity  growing  by  leaps 
and  bounds,  Gluck  returned  to  Vienna  to  receive  from  Maria 
Theresa  a  brevet  as  court  composer.  In  1774,  at  the  age  of  sixty, 
he  had  become  the  leading  musician  of  Europe. 

The  next  year,  however,  found  Gluck  in  poor  spirits.  He  had 
several  important  projects  under  way,  one  of  them  a  French  ver- 
sion of  Alceste.  He  busied  himself  remodeling  two  flimsy  operas  of 
his  earlier  period.  Neither  interested  the  Parisians,  though  Marie 
Antoinette,  now  Queen  of  France,  had  asked  for  them.  Gluck  was 
present  when  the  first  of  these  was  given,  but  he  lay  perilously  near 
to  death  in  Vienna  when  the  other  was  produced,  and  so  was 
spared  a  repetition  of  the  bitter  spectacle  of  public  apathy.  He 
returned  to  Paris  on  his  recovery,  and  the  following  spring  was 
recompensed  for  all  his  recent  disappointments  by  the  success, 
negligible  at  first,  but  ever  increasing,  of  the  French  Alceste.  Un- 
happily, in  one  of  his  absences  from  Paris  the  meddlers  at  the 
Op6ra  commissioned  Frangois-Joseph  Gossec — a  young  Belgian 
whose  fame  is  kept  verdant  by  an  immortal  and  ninth-rate  gavotte, 
and  by  the  fact  that  he  first  used  the  clarinet  in  a  score — to  write  an 
extra  character — Hercules — into  the  third  act  of  Alceste,  where  it 
has  remained  to  this  day. 

In  1777,  Gluck  produced  Armide,  the  libretto  of  which  had  been 
adapted  from  Tasso's  Gerusalemme  liberata  by  Moliere's  collaborator 
and  erstwhile  rival,  Philippe  Quinault,  for  the  use  of  Louis  XIV's 
dictatorial  favorite,  the  former  Italian  busboy,  Jean-Bap tiste  Lully .  f 
Nor  had  a  century  on  the  shelf  improved  the  libretto — it  was  more 
old-fashioned,  and  certainly  just  as  diffuse.  Armida  in  her  magic 
garden  is  a  sort  of  seventeenth-century  Kundry,  and  her  natural 
playmates  are  demons,  knights-errant,  warlocks,  and  fairies.  It  is 
useless  to  pretend  that  Gluck  was  entirely  successful  in  setting 
Quinault's  libretto — the  bewildering  change  of  scene  and  the  stage 
properties  got  in  the  way  of  the  music  all  too  often.  Nevertheless, 
though  Armide  does  not  hold  together,  and  is  less  rich  in  memo- 
rable airs  than  some  of  Gluck's  other  operas,  it  shows  him  as  not 

*  In  modern  revivals,  the  role  of  Orpheus  is  always  sung — in  the  original  key — by 
a  woman. 

f  Handel  had  also  used  Quinault's  libretto  for  his  Rinaldo. 

GLUGK  99 

only  a  starter  but  a  developer  of  character.  The  influential  critic, 
La  Harpe,  entirely  missed  the  point  in  stigmatizing  the  part  of 
Armida  as  "a  monotonous  and  fatiguing  shriek  from  beginning  to 
end."  What  Gluck  had  really  done  with  considerable  success  was 
to  sacrifice  purely  musical  beauty  to  the  demands  of  dramatic 
characterization — a  romantic  attitude  that  has  found  its  ultimate 
logic  in  Strauss5  Elektra. 

Armide  touched  off  the  fuse  of  the  most  notorious  strife  in  musical 
history — the  war  between  the  Gluckists  and  the  Piccinnists.  It  em- 
broiled everyone  in  Paris  with  the  exception  of  Gluck  and  the 
frightened  and  confused  Niccola  Piccirmi,  who  had  originally  been 
imported  to  cross  swords  with  the  great  Austrian— and  to  add  to 
the  gaiety  of  nations.  Far  too  much  has  been  made  of  this  quarrel. 
It  is  true  that  all  sorts  of  bigwigs — Marie  Antoinette,  Mme  Du 
Barry,  Voltaire,  and  Rousseau — were  involved  in  setting  the  stage 
for  the  pitched  battle,  and  anyone  reading  the  journals  of  the  time 
would  conclude  that  nothing  else  was  talked  of.  Actually,  the  prin- 
cipals refused  to  fight:  Gluck  not  only  scrapped  a  partially  com- 
pleted version  of  Roland  when  he  heard  that  the  conspirators  had 
given  Piccinni  the  same  libretto,  but  consistently  refused  to  admit 
that  there  was  any  rivalry  between  him  and  the  Italian;  Piccinni, 
who  had  his  share  of  talent  and  taste,  was  loud  in  his  admiration 
of  Gluck.  Eventually,  however,  the  unwilling  protagonists  were 
tricked  into  setting  the  same  libretto — Iphigenie  en  Tauride.  Piccinni 
offered  his  profound  apologies  to  Gluck,  and  the  whole  feud 
shortly  died  of  inanition.* 

Gluck  was  sixty-five  years  old  when  Iphigenie  en  Tauride,  the  last 
of  his  six  great  operas,  was  first  performed.  He  was  fortunate  in 
securing,  for  this  final  masterpiece,  the  best  libretto  he  ever  had, 
adapted  from  Euripides  with  singular  faithfulness  by  an  obscure 
poet,  Nicolas-Frangois  Guillard.  For  once,  Gluck  was  freed  from 
supplying  appropriate  music  to  absurd  mythological  hocus-pocus. 
The  story  is  refreshingly  straightforward:  when  Iphigenia  offers  to 
take  her  brother  Orestes5  place  on  the  sacrificial  altar,  her  nobility 
is  rewarded  by  the  gods;  she  is  rescued  by  Orestes'  faithful  friend, 
Pylades,  and  the  tyrant  who  had  ordered  the  sacrifice  is  slain.  Age 
had  steadied  rather  than  weakened  Gluck's  hand,  and  the  only 

*  The  Gluckists  claimed  the  victory,  for  Piccinni's  setting  of  Iphigenie  en  Tauride 
fell  far  short  of  Gluck' s — as  Piccinni  was  the  first  to  acknowledge. 

100  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

criticism  of  the  score  (if  criticism  it  be)  is  that  it  lacks  those  catchy 
melodies  which  have  served  to  keep  Gluck5  s  fame  alive  in  public 
esteem.  Otherwise  the  Tauric  Iphigenie  is  the  perfect  and  magnifi- 
cent realization  of  his  operatic  theories — simple  music  that  effec- 
tively, inevitably  clothes  the  text.  His  achievement  here  is  all  the 
more  impressive  since  several  of  the  most  dramatically  apt  num- 
bers were  borrowed  from  earlier  works,  borrowed  with  such  nicety 
of  discrimination  and  adapted  to  their  new  surroundings  with  such 
a  sure  touch  as  to  completely  transform  them. 

It  was  this  quality  of  intelligence,  of  seeing  the  shape  of  an  opera 
whole,  that  drove  Gluck  to  the  innovations  that  constitute  his 
historical  importance.  In  sheer  musical  genius  he  was  not  meas- 
urably superior  to  the  best  of  his  now  forgotten  contemporaries, 
except  in  the  few  instances  when  he  was  carried  beyond  his  own 
powers  by  the  force  of  the  drama.  His  actual  idiom  differs  but  little 
from  theirs,  and  so  there  is  no  exaggeration  in  Vernon  Lee's  judg- 
ment: c 'Musical  style,  in  its  musical  essentials,  was  unaltered  by 
Gluck5  s  reforms."  His  aims  were  all  in  the  direction  of  dramatic 
verity  and  continuity.  Stated  bluntly,  his  was  a  scissors-and-paste 
job:  he  moved  certain  elements  around,  dropped  others,  and  made 
inserts  of  his  own.  He  saw,  for  instance,  that  the  time-honored  da 
capo  aria,  with  its  automatic  reprise,  was  fatal  to  all  dramatic 
movement:  he  dropped  it.  He  saw  that  clavier-accompanied  reci- 
tative interrupting  the  orchestral  language  was  quite  as  fatal  to  his 
purpose:  he  dropped  the  clavier,  incidentally  creating  the  modern 
opera  conductor,  for  the  clavierist  had  previously  given  the  beat. 

Iphigenie  en  Tauride  was  Gluck' s  last  success — almost  his  last  effort. 
Shortly  afterwards,  he  wrote  Echo  et  Narcisse,  and  for  the  first  time 
in  years,  the  directors  of  the  Opera,  with  ominous  prescience, 
dared  to  bargain  with  him  about  the  price.  They  were  right:  Echo 
et  Narcisse  failed  miserably,  infuriating  Gluck  and  losing  money  for 
the  management.  He  would  have  fled  to  Vienna  at  once,  but  he 
was  in  bed  recovering  from  a  stroke  of  apoplexy.  He  was  worn  out 
from  hard  work  and  years  of  rich  food  and  drink:  the  lustrous  gray 
eyes  were  dimmed;  the  brown  hair  was  silvery  white,  the  thick 
bull  neck  withered,  the  towering  frame  stooped.  Before  reaching 
Vienna,  in  October,  1779,  he  suffered  several  more  slight  strokes. 

Gluck's  last  years  were  uneventful.  He  had  no  financial  worries: 
not  only  was  his  wife  wealthy,  but  he  had  himself  made  a  large 

GLUGK  101 

fortune.  Furthermore,  he  had  his  salary  as  court  composer  at 
Vienna  and  an  annual  pension  of  six  thousand  livres  from  Marie 
Antoinette,  which  he  had  been  drawing  since  1774.  He  and  his 
wife  lived  happily  if  rather  lonesomely  (their  adopted  daughter's 
death,  some  years  earlier,  had  affected  them  both  deeply)  in  a 
spacious  house  in  the  Rennweg.  They  occasionally  entertained 
with  some  splendor:  Catherine  the  Great's  son,  the  future  Paul  of 
Russia,  and  his  wife  called  in  1781,  and  the  next  year  the  Mozarts 
dined  with  them.  Nothing  resembling  the  friendship  between  Mo- 
zart and  Haydn  resulted,  but  the  two  composers  genuinely  ad- 
mired each  other:  Gluck  listened  to  Die  Entfuhrung  aus  dem  Serail 
with  sympathetic  delight;  Mozart  haunted  the  rehearsals  oflfkige- 
nie  en  Tauride  (not  disdaining  to  get  a  few  pointers  for  Don  Giovanni}., 
and  even  composed  a  set  of  variations  on  a  Gluck  theme. 

Musically,  Gluck  was  all  but  comatose.  He  toyed  with  the  idea 
of  writing  music  for  one  more  Calzabigi  libretto — Les  Danaides — 
but  abandoned  it  shortly,  turning  it  over  generously  (but  without 
the  playwright's  authorization)  to  his  protege,  Antonio  Salieri, 
whom  he  allowed  to  announce  the  work  as  a  joint  product  of  their 
pens.  When  the  opera  was  a  hit,  Gluck  was  even  more  kind  to 
Salieri:  he  publicly  stated  that  his  only  share  in  the  work  had  been 
advice.  But  when  the  rightfully  indignant  Calzabigi  protested 
against  this  highhanded  use  of  his  libretto,  Gluck  was  silent.  He 
had  nothing  to  say — there  was  no  effective  defense  possible,  and 
besides,  he  was  too  ill  to  reply.  He  now  saw  no  one.  Under  the 
strictest  medical  care  because  of  recurring  strokes,  he  was  de- 
prived of  the  last  pleasures  of  the  aged.  This  was  worse  than  death 
to  Gluck,  and  one  day  when  his  wife's  back  was  turned,  he  downed 
a  liqueur.  Feeling  nothing  the  worse,  he  went  for  a  drive.  Before 
reaching  home,  he  had  another  seizure,  and  before  the  day  was- 
over  he  was  dead.  It  was  November  15,  1787,  and  Gluck  was 
seventy-three  years  old. 

Chapter  V 

Franz  Josef  Haydn 

(Rohrau,  March  31,  1732-May  31,  1809,  Vienna) 

IN  1795  England  was  well  embarked  on  that  bloody  and  pro- 
tracted strife  with  France  that  was  to  end  on  the  field  of  Water- 
loo some  twenty  years  later.  It  was  a  black  year,  characterized  by 
bread  riots  and  widespread  famine.  There  were  threats  against  the 
life  of  the  younger  Pitt,  whose  indomitable  spirit  alone  kept  the 
war  going.  In  October,  a  hungry  mob  howled  at  poor  crazy  George 
III  on  his  way  to  open  Parliament.  Everyone  except  the  ministry 
wanted  peace,  and  it  seemed  that  the  brave  English  nation  could 
think  of  nothing  but  its  misery.  Parliament  was  the  scene  of  acri- 
monious debate  on  matters  of  the  gravest  import.  And  yet,  at  a 
time  when  the  most  trivial  motion  was  made  a  pretext  for  embar- 
rassing the  government  in  the  voting,  the  battling  Whigs  and  To- 
ries agreed  to  honor  an  Austrian*  composer's  claim  for  one  hundred 
guineas.  For  the  creditor  was  Franz  Josef  Haydn,  who  had  lately 
given  the  people  of  England  such  musical  fare  as  they  had  not  en- 
joyed since  the  days  of  George  Frideric  Handel. 

Of  course,  some  of  the  more  old-fashioned  squires  may  have 
muttered  that  the  bill  was  not  in  the  best  of  taste.  It  was  well 
known  that  Herr  Haydn  had  carried  away  a  small  fortune  from 
the  island,  not  to  speak  of  a  talking  bird  of  inestimable  value.  A 
more  fastidious  man,  going  off  with  such  spoils,  might  well  have 
hesitated  to  bill  the  royal  family  for  the  unique  honor  of  appearing 
at  twenty- six  command  performances. 

But  the  truth  is  that  the  excellent  businessman  who  presented 
the  claim  was  anything  but  a  fastidious  gentleman.  He  was  a  peas- 
ant, with  a  peasant's  shrewdness  and  realism  about  money  matters. 
That  is  the  fundamental  thing  to  remember  about  Josef  Haydn, 
Mus.  D.  (Oxon),  Kapellmeister  to  His  Serene  Highness  Prince 
Esterhazy,  and  the  music  that  he  made.  Even  in  his  silkiest  peruke 
and  most  brocaded  court  suit  he  never  forgot  his  poor  and  humble 
origins  and,  far  from  trying  to  gloss  them  over,  proudly  described 

*  The  idea  that  Haydn  had  some  Croatian  blood  has  now  been  thoroughly 



Mmself  as  something  made  from  nothing.  His  father  was  a  wheel- 
wright, his  mother  a  cook;  both  families  were  completely  undis- 

Haydn's  father  lived  at  Rohrau,  in  Lower  Austria,  and  there,  in 
a  poor,  almost  squalid,  house  that  is  still  standing,  the  composer 
was  born  on  March  31,  1732.  Both  of  his  parents  loved  music,  the 
father  playing  the  harp  by  ear.  Their  leisure  hours  were  often  spent 
ringing  the  local  folk  melodies  that  Haydn  himself  was  to  use  as 
thematic  material.  The  child  showed  such  a  lively  interest  in  this 
Tiomemade  music,  and  sang  so  sweetly,  that  at  the  age  of  six  he 
was  carried  off  to  near-by  Hamburg  by  a  distant  relative  who 
there  served  as  schoolteacher  and  choirmaster.  His  preceptor, 
though  unnecessarily  harsh,  grounded  him  in  the  fundamentals  of 
violin  and  clavier,  and  trained  his  voice  so  well  that  two  years 
later,  when  the  music  director  of  St.  Stephen's  at  Vienna  was  pass- 
ing through  Hamburg,  and  heard  Haydn  sing,  he  asked  to  have 
the  boy  for  his  choir.  Permission  was  granted,  and  Haydn  became 
a  Viennese  at  the  age  of  eight. 

So  much  legend  has  clustered  around  Haydn's  life  in  St.  Ste- 
phen's choir  school  that  it  is  no  longer  possible  to  disentangle  fact 
from  fiction.  Boiled  down  to  their  bare  essentials,  these  often  point- 
less stories  testify  not  only  to  his  extreme  poverty,  but  also  to  his 
intense  love  of  music.  The  choirmaster,  whose  sole  interest  was  to 
keep  his  establishment  running  on  the  smallest  possible  amount  of 
money,  did  little  to  encourage  Haydn's  obvious  talent.  He  was  a 
cruel  and  exacting  slave  driver,  and  it  is  amazing  that  his  stern,  re- 
pressive measures  did  not  crush  the  boy's  high  spirits.  There  was 
never  any  love  lost  between  the  two,  and  when  Maria  Theresa 
complained  of  Haydn's  voice,  which  was  beginning  to  break,  the 
choirmaster  was  glad  to  seize  upon  the  first  pretext  for  dismissing 
him.  When  Haydn  was  accommodating  enough  to  cut  off  another 
chorister's  pigtail,  and  was  summarily  thrown  out,  the  director 
doubtless  congratulated  himself  on  having  washed  his  hands  of  an 
insolent  practical  joker. 

Thus,  at  the  age  of  seventeen,  Haydn  found  himself  alone  and 
friendless  in  the  streets  of  Vienna.  This  was  not  quite  so  bad  as  it 
sounds,  for  though  almost  a  century  was  to  elapse  before  Johann 
Strauss  made  Vienna  the  symbol  of  Schwarmrei,  it  was  already  the 
scene  of  gaiety  and  good  fellowship.  Musicians  of  all  ranks  enter- 

1O4  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

tained  their  patrons  and  friends  with  open-air  serenades,  often, 
scored  for  full  orchestra.  Vienna  was  organized  like  a  luxury  liner, 
with  half  the  population  devoted  to  the  full-time  business  of  enter- 
taining a  benevolently  disposed  nobility.  The  streets  were  full  of 
friendly  people,  who  were  too  busy  having  a  good  time  to  stand  on 
ceremony.  One  of  them — a  tenor  with  a  wife  and  child — met 
Haydn  disconsolately  roaming  about,  and  generously  offered  him 
a  bunk  in  his  humble  attic.  For  three  years  Haydn's  efforts  to  stave 
off  hunger  were  no  more  interesting  or  distinguished  than  those  of 
any  young  man  in  his  position:  he  sang  in  church  choirs,  took  part 
in  street  serenades,  and  helped  out  the  music  at  weddings,  funer- 
als, and  other  festal  occasions.  All  this  time  he  studied  hard:  he 
learned  theory  backward  and  forward,  and  practiced  the  clavier. 
He  got  hold  of  six  of  Karl  Philipp  Emanuel  Bach's  clavier  sonatas, 
and  studied  them  so  thoroughly  that  they  became  the  backbone 
of  his  own  style.  In  crystallizing  the  sonata  form,  Karl  Philipp 
Emanuel  had  in  one  respect  outdone  his  illustrious  father,  who 
evolved  nothing,  but  perfected  forms  already  at  hand.  Haydn  him- 
self, in  both  his  quartets  and  symphonies,  developed  the  new  form 
far  beyond  anything  achieved  earlier,  but  its  fundamental  archi- 
tecture he  owed  to  the  pioneer.  Quick  to  give  praise  where  it  was 
due,  he  freely  admitted  this  debt,  and  Bach  returned  the  compli- 
ment by  proclaiming  Haydn  his  one  true  disciple. 

Spurred  on  by  his  studies  in  theory  and  his  increasing  command 
of  instrumental  resources,  Haydn  had  begun  to  compose.  Most  of 
his  very  early  works,  including  a  comic  opera  for  which  he  re- 
ceived the  splendid  sum  of  twenty-five  ducats,  are  lost.  An  indif- 
ferent Mass,  for  which,  as  one  of  his  firstborn,  Haydn  had  a  sneak- 
ing partiality,  survives.  It  must  be  admitted  that  these  first  flights 
add  little  to  his  stature  as  a  composer,  and  at  the  time  added  less  to 
his  purse.  He  even  had  to  accept  menial  jobs  to  make  ends 
For  several  years  he  gave  music  lessons  to  a  young  Spanish  blue- 
stocking whose  general  education  was  being  supervised  by  "the 
divine  Metastasio."  Haydn's  meeting  with  this  stuffy  but  kindly 
old  bachelor  set  in  motion  a  train  of  events  that  determined  the 
entire  course  of  his  life.  For  Metastasio  introduced  him  to  another 
stuffy  old  bachelor,  Niccola  Porpora,  "the  greatest  singing  master 
that  ever  lived."  Haydn  aspired  to  study  with  him,  but  had  noth- 
ing to  offer  in  payment  except  his  services  as  valet  and  accom- 


panist.  Porpora,  whose  penny  pinching  was  notorious,  drove  the 
hardest  possible  bargain. 

Working  for  Porpora  was  probably  the  toughest  job  Haydn  ever 
filled.  Porpora  was  an  irascible  old  man,  embittered  by  his  fruit- 
less rivalry  with  Handel,  unsuccessful  quest  for  high  preferment, 
and  the  obvious  truth  that  his  great  days  were  mostly  behind  him. 
Haydn  had  to  bear  the  brunt  of  his  spleen.  But  between  brushing 
the  maestro^  filthy  clothes  and  accompanying  the  Venetian  ambas- 
sador's mistress  at  her  singing  lessons,  he  somehow  managed  to 
get  the  information  he  wanted.  George  Sand  has  amusingly  em- 
broidered the  few  facts  known  about  this  strange  relationship  in 
her  long  but  rewarding  musical  novel,  Consuelo.  Although  Haydn, 
with  his  usual  generosity,  admitted  his  debt  to  Porpora,  it  was 
actually  less  artistic  than  social — through  him  he  met  many  wealthy 
noblemen  and  celebrities,  among  them  Gluck,  already  famous  for 
a  long  series  of  conventional  operas,  but  not  yet  embarked  on  his 
stormy  career  as  a  reformer.  More  important  to  Haydn  was  a  rich 
Austrian  squire,  Karl  von  Fiirnberg. 

Von  Fiirnberg,  a  man  of  artistic  tastes,  who  entertained  lavishly 
at  his  country  house  outside  Vienna,  invited  the  needy  young  man. 
to  assume  the  direction  of  the  music  at  Weinzierl.  Haydn  accepted 
with  alacrity,  and  in  1755  initiated  his  long  career  as  a  household 
musician.  He  was  at  Weinzierl  less  than  a  year,  but  in  that  brief 
time  wrote  a  series  of  eighteen  pieces  for  strings,  which  he  labeled 
indifferently  divertimenti,  nocturnes,  and  cassations.  Basing  them 
on  the  conventional  orchestral  suite,  he  gradually  refashioned 
them  in  the  light  of  the  formal  hints  he  had  taken  from  the  sonatas 
of  Karl  Philipp  Emanuel  Bach.  In  this  way,  Haydn  slowly  made 
something  new  out  of  the  suite,  bringing  into  being,  according  to 
the  instruments  used,  his  conceptions  of  the  string  quartet  and  the 
symphony.  Naturally,  he  did  not  effect  this  transformation  at  one 
sitting  or  without  getting  ideas  from  other  composers:  the  gap  be- 
tween one  of  the  Weinzierl  pieces  and  the  "Oxford"  Symphony  of 
his  last  period  is  enormous.  He  made  many  false  starts  (some  of 
them  delightful)  before  evolving  the  four-movement  symphony 
and  quartet  that  until  yesterday  were  the  formal  norms  for  these 

Haydn  returned  to  Vienna  with  money  in  his  pocket  and  pres- 
tige increased.  He  came  perilously  near  to  becoming  a  fashionable 

IO6  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

singing  and  clavier  teacher.  After  three  years,  during  which  he 
seems  to  have  sacrificed  his  creative  ambitions  to  ready-money 
teaching  and  performing  jobs,  he  was  rescued  by  Von  Fiirnberg, 
who  recommended  him  to  Count  Maximilian  von  Morzin,  a  Bo- 
hemian grandee  who  kept  a  country  establishment  far  beyond  his 
means.  Von  Morzin  engaged  Haydn  as  his  music  director  and 
composer  at  the  niggardly  salary  of  two  hundred  florins  yearly — 
about  $100.  His  new  master  kept  him  a  scant  two  years,  during 
which  he  returned  to  composition,  producing  a  mass  of  miscella- 
neous pieces  that  have  mostly  been  forgotten. 

Now  twenty-eight  years  old,  and  good  Viennese  bourgeois  he 
had  become,  Haydn  bethought  himself  of  taking  a  wife.  There 
were  three  stumbling  blocks  in  the  way  of  his  marriage:  his  stipend 
was  too  meager  to  support  even  a  frugal  bachelor;  Count  von 
Morzin  never  kept  a  married  man  in  his  employ,  and  the  girl  of 
Haydn's  choice — a  barber's  younger  daughter — entered  a  convent. 
None  of  these  warnings  could  shake  his  determination:  he  wanted 
to  get  married,  and  nothing  could  stop  him.  Accordingly,  when 
the  calculating  barber  suggested  his  elder  daughter  as  a  second 
choice,  Haydn  rose  to  the  bait.  On  November  26,  1760,  he  led  the 
elder  Fraulein  Keller  to  the  altar.  She  was  three  years  his  senior — 
and  a  highly  unreasonable  woman.  From  the  beginning,  this  love- 
less marriage  was  doomed  to  failure.  Fortunately,  Haydn  was  not 
a  very  emotional  man,  and  marrying  a  harridan  could  not  break 
his  spirit.  There  were  no  children  to  hold  them  together,  and  after 
a  few  years  a  separation  was  quietly  arranged,  though  he  con- 
tinued to  support  her. 

Von  Morzin  had  no  opportunity  to  apply  to  his  musical  director 
his  odd  rule  about  married  men.  His  creditors  denied  him  that 
luxury.  Early  in  1761,  he  was  obliged  to  retrench,  and  his  musi- 
cians were  among  the  first  dismissed.  Luckily  for  Haydn,  just  be- 
fore the  collapse  Prince  Pal  Antal  Esterh^zy  visited  Von  Morzin, 
and  was  greatly  impressed  by  Haydn's  compositions  and  by  his 
conduct  of  the  band.  He  at  once  offered  him  a  place  in  his  own 
musical  establishment,  and  so,  when  he  was  dismissed,  Haydn 
went  almost  immediately  to  the  EsterMzy  estate  at  Eisenstadt. 

Haydn  was  to  remain  in  the  service  of  the  Esterhazys  until  the 
dawn  of  the  nineteenth  century.  Because  of  the  medieval  temper 
of  the  Hungarian  squirearchy,  as  well  as  the  idiosyncrasies  of  his 


masters,  he  was  practically  a  prisoner  in  the  country  for  almost 
thirty  years.  Very  occasionally,  when  he  had  an  acute  attack  of 
wanderlust,  he  resented  this  enforced  isolation.  But  he  was  not  a 
man  to  beat  his  wings  against  the  bars  in  senseless  fretting — he  was 
inclined  to  take  life  as  he  found  it.  As  a  peasant  who  had  come  up 
in  the  world,  homely  philosophy  was  definitely  his  line,  and  he 
almost  invariably  stuck  to  it.  A  Beethoven  or  a  Mozart  could  not 
have  brooked  the  soul-sapping  monotony  of  petty  court  life — either 
they  would  have  revolted  by  running  away,  or  would  have  stifled 
their  anguish  in  tragic  masterpieces.  But  Haydn  was  content,  even 
when  his  fame  had  spread  throughout  Europe,  to  remain  the  per- 
fect upper  servant  perfectly  performing  his  daily  duties. 

Judged  by  ordinary  standards,  Haydn  was  emotionally  a  vege- 
table. After  leaving  Rohrau  at  the  age  of  six,  he  seems  to  have 
displayed  only  the  most  perfunctory  interest  in  his  parents.  Their 
deaths  apparently  left  him  untouched.  His  attitude  toward  his 
brothers,  two  of  whom  were  musicians,  might  be  described  as  one 
of  polite  interest.  As  we  have  seen,  his  marriage  was  entered  into 
without  romance,  and  turned  out  a  complete  failure.  He  was  far 
advanced  in  his  forties  before  he  really  fell  in  love,  if  indeed  such  a 
strong  term  can  be  applied  to  his  businesslike  passion  for  a  young 
married  woman,  almost  thirty  years  his  junior.  In  fact,  Haydn's 
recorded  connections  with  women  invariably  have  a  touch  of  the 
comic  about  them. 

A  clue  to  Haydn's  sparse  emotional  life  is  to  be  found  both  in  the 
wearisome  multiplicity  of  his  official  duties  and  in  the  very  quality 
of  the  vast  amount  of  music  he  composed.  To  paraphrase  Buffon, 
the  music  was  the  man.  He  was  well  balanced,  genial,  sensible,  a 
little  pedantic,  and  did  not  wear  his  genius  on  his  sleeve.  In  short, 
just  the  sort  of  person  to  get  along  with  a  temperamental  master 
and  win  the  affection  of  his  colleagues — the  perfect  Kapellmeister. 
There  was  something  in  Josef  Haydn  that  liked  being  a  fun-C- 
tionary :  he  took  even  the  deification  he  underwent  in  his  old  age  as 
the  just  deserts  of  a  man  who  had  done  his  job  faithfully  and  well. 

When  Haydn  first  took  up  his  residence  at  Eisenstadt>  he  found 
his  duties  comparatively  light.  The  musical  establishment  was 
small,  and  besides,  he  was  at  first  only  assistant  Kapellmeister.  In  less 
than  a  year,  however,  Prince  Pal  Antal  died,  and  was  succeeded 
by  his  more  ostentatious  brother,  who  immediately  began  to  ex- 

IO8  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

pand  in  all  directions.  His  Serene  Highness  Prince  Miklds  Jozsef 
Esterhazy  of  GaHnta,  Knight  of  the  Golden  Fleece,  was  known, 
with  the  curious  understatement  of  the  eighteenth  century,  as  "the 
Magnificent."  Decked  out  in  his  renowned  diamond-studded  uni- 
form, he  would  be  perfectly  at  home  on  a  De  Mille  set.  When  he 
made  his  triumphal  entry  into  Eisenstadt  after  succeeding  to  his 
resounding  title,  the  festivities  lasted  a  month,  and  were  on  an  im- 
perial scale. 

But  Prince  Miklds  had  something  more  than  a  baroque  side  to 
his  nature.  Like  all  the  Esterhazys,  he  loved  music,  and  wanted  his 
artists  to  be  the  best  in  Europe.  Accordingly,  when  his  old  Kapell- 
meister died  in  1766,  he  promoted  Haydn  to  the  post.  It  turned  out 
that  this  was  a  far  more  important  position  than  his  predecessor 
had  held,  for  Haydn  was  soon  presiding  over  the  musical  house- 
hold of  the  most  spectacular  country  place  east  of  Versailles.  In 
1764  the  Prince,  bored  with  his  two-hundred-room  manor  at 
Eisenstadt,  had  begun  a  vast  Renaissance  cMteau  directly  in- 
spired by  a  visit  to  Versailles.  Whether  Prince  Miklds  actually 
aimed  at  putting  Louis  XV's  nose  out  of  joint  will  never  be  known, 
but  it  is  certain  that  he  dropped  eleven  million  gulden  transform- 
ing an  unhealthy  marsh  about  thirty  miles  from  Eisenstadt  into 
the  fairy  palace  of  Esterhaz.  The  cleverest  gardeners  worked 
miracles  with  its  unpromising  environs,  strewing  them  with  the 
elegant  commonplaces  of  eighteenth-century  landscaping:  grot- 
toes, hermitages,  classical  temples,  kiosks,  artificial  waterfalls,  and 
— of  course — a  maze.  The  park  was  copiously  stocked  with  game; 
the  streams  were  sluggish  with  fish.  But  more  important  than  these 
were  the  spendthrift  provisions  for  musical  and  theatrical  enter- 
tainment: the  opera  house  accommodating  four  hundred  spec- 
tators and  the  marionette  theater  equipped  with  every  imaginable 

As  Kapellmeister  of  one  of  the  most  hospitable  magnificoes  of  the 
age,  Haydn  held  no  sinecure.  The  detail  work  was  tremendous, 
and  despite  his  fertility,  composing  must  have  taken  up  only  a 
tithe  of  his  time.  To  get  a  picture  of  Haydn's  schedule,  imagine 
Toscanini  composing  almost  everything  he  plays,  acting  as  music 
librarian,  seeing  that  the  instruments  are  in  repair,  and  sending 
written  reports  of  his  players5  conduct  to  the  board  of  directors 
of  the  National  Broadcasting  Company.  Even  when  the  master  was 


away,  Haydn  had  to  give  two  concerts  a  week  to  guarantee  against 
the  musicians  absenting  themselves  without  leave,  and  to  keep 
them  in  concert  trim.  And  when  Prince  Miklds  had  a  houseful  of 
distinguished  guests  (which  was  much  of  the  time),  Haydn's  duties 
kept  him  on  the  run  from  early  morning  until  the  last  candle  was 

Haydn  spent  almost  a  quarter  of  a  century  at  Esterhaz,  oc- 
cupying three  rooms  in  the  servants*  wing.  His  relations  with  the 
Prince  were  as  warm  as  the  difference  in  their  ranks  allowed. 
True,  while  still  assistant  Kapellmeister,  Haydn  had  been  repri- 
manded for — of  all  things — dilatory  attention  to  his  duties.  And 
once  he  made  the  tactical  blunder  of  mastering  the  baryton,  a  kind 
of  viola  da  gamba  on  which  his  master  fancied  himself  a  virtuoso. 
Instead  of  being  pleased,  the  Prince  was  annoyed  to  find  a  rival  in 
the  field.  Haydn  then  showed  his  native  diplomacy  by  abandoning 
the  baryton  except  to  write  some  two  hundred  pieces  for  it,  pieces 
carefully  calculated  not  to  expose  the  Prince's  limitations.  He  was 
unfeignedly  fond  of  his  patron.  After  Prince  Miklds'  death,  he 

"My  Prince  was  always  satisfied  with  my  works;  I  not  only  had 
the  encouragement  of  constant  approval,  but  as  conductor  of  an 
orchestra  I  could  make  experiments,  observe  what  produced  an 
effect  and  what  weakened  it,  and  was  thus  in  a  position  to  im- 
prove, alter,  make  additions  or  omissions,  and  be  as  bold  as  I 
pleased;  I  was  cut  off  from  the  world,  there  was  no  one  to  confuse 
or  torment  me,  and  I  was  forced  to  become  original" 

Between  Haydn  and  his  musicians  the  friendliest  feelings  always 
prevailed.  The  junior  members  of  his  staff,  many  of  whom  studied 
with  him,  were  the  first  to  refer  to  him  as  "Papa  Haydn."  In  truth, 
he  was  a  father  to  all  his  musicians,  and  was  always  ready  to  plead 
their  case.  One  of  the  more  delicate  subjects  was  obtaining  leave  for 
the  men,  practically  cut  off  from  their  families  by  the  Prince's 
morbid  affection  for  Esterhaz.  With  rare  humorous  tact,  Haydn 
once  presented  a  vacation  plea  by  writing  the  "Farewell"  Sym- 
phony, in  the  finale  of  which  the  men  blew  out  the  candles  on 
their  music  stands,  and  stole  out,  one  by  one.  Until,  as  Michel 
Brenet  says,  "Haydn,  alone  at  his  desk  was  preparing,  not  without 
anxiety,  to  go  out  too,  when  Nicolas  Esterhazy  called  him  and 


announced  that  he  had  understood  the  musicians5  request  and 
that  they  might  leave  the  next  day."* 

But  though  Haydn  and  his  men  craved  an  occasional  vacation, 
life  at  Esterhaz  was  not  too  monotonous,  and  working  conditions 
were — for  the  period — excellent.  Haydn  went  to  work  originally 
for  four  hundred  florins  a  year,  a  figure  which  was  almost  doubled 
before  Prince  Miklds  died.  Considering  that  he  had  no  personal  ex- 
penses, the  fact  that  he  saved  a  mere  pittance  during  a  quarter 
century  at  Esterhaz  is  eloquent  of  an  extravagant  wife.  But  Frau 
Haydn  was  not  entirely  to  blame.  When  the  composer  was  almost 
fifty,  he  became  involved  with  the  wife  of  one  of  his  violinists. 
Little  Signora  Polzelli,  a  vocalist  briefly  employed  at  Esterhaz,  was 
only  nineteen  when  Haydn  met  her.  She  did  not  love  her  husband, 
and  there  is  little  evidence  that  she  cared  for  the  bluff  old  Austrian. 
Soon,  however,  things  came  to  such  a  pass  that  the  lovers  were  ex- 
changing pledges  that  they  would  wed  when  death  released  them 
from  their  partners.  Polzelli  died  after  a  polite  interval,  but 
Haydn's  wife  was  disobliging  enough  to  linger  until  1800,  at  which 
time  the  now  rather  faded  siren  got  Haydn  to  sign  a  promise  to 
leave  her  an  annuity  of  three  hundred  florins.  Whereupon  she 
married  an  Italian,  for  the  money  had  been  her  only  object  all 
along.  Before  forcing  the  promise  of  an  annuity,  she  had  for  years 
been  milking  Haydn,  probably  on  the  strength  of  an  old  indiscre- 
tion. Only  once  did  he  complain,  after  he  had  sent  her  six  hundred 
florins  in  one  year. 

The  affaire  Polzelli  seems  to  have  been  the  only  wild  oat  Haydn 
sowed  at  Esterhaz.  His  mere  routine  duties  ruled  out  excesses; 
the  special  entertainments  for  the  Prince's  eminent  guests  made 
self-denial  mandatory.  The  gallant  Prince  Louis  de  Rohan,  later 
the  scapegoat  of  the  "affair  of  the  diamond  necklace,"  stopped  at 
Esterhaz  in  1772,  and  delighted  his  host  by  comparing  the  cMteau 
to  Versailles.  The  next  year,  Maria  Theresa  was  entertained  at  a 
three-day  festival,  for  which  Haydn  composed  the  delightful  sym- 
phony that  still  bears  her  name.  And  so  it  went,  with  the  palace  a 
scene  of  constant  revelry  and  music-making.  Or  Prince  Miklds 
might  tear  himself  away  from  Esterhaz  for  the  pleasure  of  exhibit- 
ing his  band  and  its  increasingly  famous  leader.  Sometimes  he 

*  In  1939  the  Boston  Symphony  Orchestra,  attired  in  eighteenth-century  cos- 
tume, enacted  this  scene,  with  Dr,  Koussevitzky  as  Haydn. 


took  them  to  Pressburg,  where  the  Hungarian  diet  met;  one  year 
they  went  to  the  imperial  palace  at  Schonbrunn,  where  Haydn 
conducted  one  of  his  own  operas  as  well  as  the  music  at  a  state 
dinner.  When  the  Grand  Duke  Paul  of  Russia  visited  Vienna  in 
1781,  Prince  Miklds  and  his  orchestra  were  on  hand.  Some  of 
Haydn's  operas  were  performed,  and  the  indefatigable  Kapell- 
meister composed  the  six  "Russian"  Quartets  in  Paul's  honor.  The 
Grand  Duchess,  who  was  extremely  fond  of  his  music,  presented 
Haydn  with  a  diamond-studded  addition  to  his  already  imposing 
collection  of  royal  and  noble  snuffboxes. 

But  infinitely  more  important  than  Haydn's  contacts  with  the 
most  imposing  stuffed  shirts  of  the  era  was  his  meeting  with 
Mozart.  This  was  more  than  a  mere  momentary  crossing  of  paths. 
It  was  a  mutual  recognition  of  genius  that  affected  the  work  of 
both  men,  and  thus  left  an  imperishable  mark  on  music.  Each  had 
something  of  the  highest  value  for  the  other,  and  it  is  no  mere 
coincidence  that  their  masterpieces  were  composed  after  their 
meeting.  They  saw  each  other  rarely,  but  for  collectors  of  great 
moments  be  it  known  that  on  at  least  two  occasions  they  sat  down 
to  play  quartets  together,  once  with  Karl  Ditters  von  Dittersdorf 
and  their  now  forgotten  rival,  Johann  Baptist  Wanhal. 

And  so  the  years  passed  gently  over  Haydn's  head.  Suddenly,  in 
September,  1790,  Prince  Miklds  died,  and  the  world  Haydn  had 
known  for  almost  thirty  years  came  to  an  end.  The  new  Prince,  less 
interested  in  the  arts  than  most  of  the  Esterhazys,  disbanded  the 
musicians — and  Haydn,  at  fifty-eight,  was  out  of  a  job.  This  was  no 
great  tragedy,  for  his  beloved  patron  had  left  him  an  annual  pen- 
sion of  one  thousand  florins,  to  which  Prince  Antal  now  generously 
added  four  hundred  more.  It  might  seem  that  with  an  assured 
annual  income  of  almost  twice  his  stipend  from  Prince  Miklds, 
Haydn  was  better  off  financially  than  ever.  But  this  was  not  the 
case.  Not  only  did  the  bonuses  Prince  Miklds  had  given  him  for 
special  compositions  cease,  but  also  he  was  obliged  to  live  at  his 
own  expense.  And  life  in  Vienna,  to  which  he  naturally  gravi- 
tated, was  expensive.  On  the  other  hand,  his  already  great  fame 
brought  many  pupils  flocking  to  his  door,  and  considerable  sums 
were  coming  in  from  his  publishers. 

For  the  man  who  had  once  been  reprimanded  for  loafing  on  the 
job  had  really  produced  during  his  life  at  Esterhaz  a  vast  body  of 

112  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

compositions.  Unlike  Hasse,  who  may  possibly  have  been  cheated 
of  immortality  when  the  great  Dresden  fire  destroyed  almost  all  his 
manuscripts,  Haydn,  though  he  lost  many  scores  in  a  fire  at  Ester- 
haz  in  1779,  had  already  published  so  much  that  his  fame  would 
have  been  secure  if  he  had  never  written  another  note.  Roughly 
speaking,  while  there  he  had  composed  over  twenty  operas,  about 
ninety  symphonies,  and  more  than  sixty  quartets,  besides  small 
orchestral  works,  pieces  for  clavier  and  other  solo  instruments  (in- 
cluding a  glass  harmonica  and  a  musical  cloc1*),  chamber  music  of 
all  varieties,  and  Masses  and  other  works  for  solo  and  concerted 

Almost  without  exception,  Haydn's  early  vocal  works  are  now 
outside  the  living  repertoire,  if,  indeed,  they  were  ever  in  it.  Most 
of  them  were  written  to  be  performed  at  Esterhaz,  and  were  born 
and  died  there.  Haydn  himself  seems  to  have  had  mixed  feelings 
about  the  operas.  On  the  one  hand,  he  could  write  with  naive  con- 
ceit to  his  Viennese  publisher:  "If  only  the  French  could  know  my 
operetta  Ulsola  disabitata  and  my  last  opera  La  Fedelta  premiatal  I 
am  sure  such  works  have  never  yet  been  heard  in  Paris,  perhaps 
not  even  in  Vienna."  The  answer  is  that  by  1781,  when  this  letter 
was  written,  the  French  and  the  Austrians  had  heard  far  too  many 
such  operas,  and  Gluck  had  already  won  his  battle  against  them. 
Haydn,  who  had  been  taught  to  write  opera  according  to  the  old- 
fashioned  recipes  of  Alessandro  Scarlatti  and  Hasse,  was  in  a  saner 
frame  of  mind  six  years  later,  when  he  was  invited  to  compose  an 
opera  for  Prague: 

"You  ask  me  for  a  comic  light  opera,"  he  wrote.  "Certainly,  if 
you  are  willing  to  reserve  for  private  use  some  vocal  work  of  my 
composition.  But  if  it  is  intended  for  performance  in  the  theater  at 
Prague,  then  I  cannot  serve  you,  for  all  my  operas  are  written  for 
the  special  conditions  of  Esterhaz,  and  could  not  produce  else- 
where the  effect  I  have  calculated  upon  for  this  setting.  It  would 
be  otherwise  if  I  had  the  inestimable  good  fortune  to  be  able  to 
compose  for  your  theater  upon  a  completely  new  libretto.  Though, 
there  again,  I  should  run  too  many  risks,  for  it  would  be  difficult 
for  anyone — no  matter  whom — to  equal  the  great  Mozart.  That  is 
why  I  wish  that  all  music  lovers,  especially  the  influential,  could 
know  the  inimitable  works  of  Mozart  with  a  profundity,  a  musical 
knowledge,  and  a  keen  appreciation  equal  to  my  own.  Then  the 

HAYDN  113 

nations  would  compete  for  possession  of  such  a  treasure.  Prague 
must  hold  fast  so  precious  a  man — and  reward  him.  For  without 
that,  the  history  of  a  great  genius  is  a  sad  one,  and  gives  posterity 
little  encouragement  to  follow  the  same  course.  That  is  why  so 
much  fine  and  hopeful  talent  unfortunately  perishes.  I  am  full  of 
anger  when  I  think  that  this  unique  genius  is  not  yet  attached  to  a 
royal  or  imperial  court.  Forgive  this  outburst:  I  love  the  man 
too  much." 

Haydn's  affection  for  Mozart  was  reciprocated.  In  1790,  when 
he  was  invited  to  visit  London,  Mozart  tried  to  dissuade  him  from 
going.  "Oh,  Papa!"  he  exclaimed  (though  momentarily  he  seemed 
like  the  wise  parent),  "you  have  had  no  education  for  the  wide, 
wide  world,  and  you  speak  too  few  languages." 

"My  language  is  understood  all  over  the  world,"  Haydn  replied 
dryly.  For  he  was  determined  to  go.  Salomon,  the  London  im- 
presario, had  suddenly  burst  in  upon  him  several  days  before, 
saying,  "I  have  come  from  London  to  fetch  you.  We  will  settle 
terms  tomorrow."  That  morrow  came,  and  like  Satan  displaying 
the  nations  of  the  world  from  the  mountaintop,  Salomon  unrolled 
his  little  plan.  Haydn  heard,  was  tempted,  and  fell.  Salomon 
guaranteed  him  £900  if  he  would  make  the  trip.  The  only  diffi- 
culty, from  Haydn's  point  of  view,  was  that  he  had  to  pay  his  own 
traveling  expenses.  However,  Prince  Esterhazy  advanced  him  the 
money,  and  after  providing  for  his  wife  by  selling  a  little  house  in 
Eisenstadt  that  Prince  Miklds  had  given  him,  Haydn  set  out  for 
London  in  mid-December.  Mozart,  on  hand  to  see  him  off,  burst 
into  tears.  "This  is  good-by,"  he  sobbed.  "We  shall  never  meet 
again."  And,  indeed,  before  Haydn  returned  to  Vienna  Mozart 
was  dead. 

At  fifty-eight,  the  composer  set  out  on  his  travels  with  the  na'ive 
curiosity  of  a  child.  The  Channel  crossing  was  rough.  "I  remained 
on  deck  during  the  whole  passage,"  he  wrote,  "in  order  to  gaze  my 
fill  at  that  huge  monster,  the  ocean.  So  long  as  it  was  calm,  I  had 
no  fears,  but  when  at  length  a  violent  wind  began  to  blow,  rising 
every  minute  ...  I  was  seized  with  a  little  alarm  and  a  little  in- 
disposition." He  landed  at  Dover,  and  arrived  in  London  on  New 
Year's  Day,  1791.  He  was  received  like  a  sovereign  prince:  his 
fame  had  been  trumpeted  before  him,  and  the  clever  Salomon 
had  used  the  press  to  raise  public  interest  to  fever  pitch.  His  lodg- 

114  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

ings  were  besieged  by  ambassadors  and  great  nobles,  and  invita- 
tions came  pouring  in  by  the  hundreds.  The  inescapable  Dr. 
Burney  called,  and  firmly  presented  him  with  an  ode  of  welcome, 
In  view  of  the  fact  that  the  terms  of  his  contract  called  for  twenty 
especially  written  compositions,  including  six  symphonies,  he 
finally  had  to  move  into  the  country  to  elude  his  pertinacious 
admirers.  Unhappily  he  had  arrived  in  the  midst  of  one  of  those 
wars  of  the  impresarios  in  which  Handel  had  received  so  many 
noble  scars,  and  thus  his  opening  concert  was  delayed.  Slurring 
squibs  about  him  appeared  in  the  newspapers,  and  doubtless  the 
announcement  of  an  actual  date  for  the  first  concert  narrowly 
averted  a  question  being  asked  in  Parliament. 

All  criticism  was  silenced  by  the  overwhelming  success  of  the 
first  concert.  The  adagio  of  the  symphony  (now  known  as  the 
"Salomon"  No.  2)  was  encored — in  those  times  a  rare  proof  of 
enthusiasm.  And  when  the  Prince  of  Wales  appeared  like  a  re- 
splendent apparition  at  the  second  concert,  the  newspapers 
changed  their  tone.  Blending  sycophancy  with  true  admiration, 
they  now  referred  to  "the  sublime  and  august  thoughts  this  master 
weaves  into  his  works."  The  shrewd  Salomon  was  assisting  at  an 
apotheosis.  Crowds  were  turned  away  from  the  Hanover  Square 
Rooms  for  every  concert,  and  Haydn's  benefit  on  May  16  realized 
£350 — almost  twice  the  take  Salomon  had  guaranteed.  The  first 
week  of  July,  Haydn  journeyed  up  to  Oxford  (or,  as  he  wrote  it, 
Oxforth),  which,  at  Burney's  recommendation,  had  offered  him  a 
musical  doctorate.  At  the  second  of  the  three  concerts  given  there 
in  his  honor,  the  lovely  symphony  in  G  major  he  had  written  some 
years  before  was  performed  instead  of  a  new  work.  Ever  since 
known  as  the  "Oxford"  Symphony,  this  delicious  musical  kitten 
appealed  immediately  to  the  lettered  dons  and  young  fashionables. 

Haydn  was  enormously  pleased — and  a  bit  flustered.  After  he 
received  his  degree,  he  acknowledged  the  applause  by  raising  his 
doctor's  gown  high  above  his  head  so  that  all  could  see  it,  saying 
in  English,  "I  thank  you."  He  must  have  been  a  rather  comic 
figure,  though  he  wrote  home  in  great  glee,  "I  had  to  walk  around 
in  this  gown  for  three  days.  I  only  wish  my  friends  in  Vienna  might 
have  seen  me."  Like  so  many  famous  men,  he  was  decidedly  below 
middle  height.  His  thickset,  flabby  body  was  carried  on  absurdly 
short  legs.  And  his  face  was  far  from  prepossessing,  though  its  fc?- 

HAYDN  115 

tures,  except  for  an  underslung  Hapsburg  jaw,  were  regular.  His 
swarthy  skin  was  deeply  pitted  by  smallpox,  and  his  nose  was  dis- 
figured by  a  growth  he  stubbornly  refused  to  have  removed  even 
when  John  Hunter,  the  ablest  surgeon  of  the  epoch,  offered  to 
perform  the  operation.  Haydn  realized  that  he  was  ugly,  and 
preened  himself  on  the  fact  that  women  fell  in  love  with  him  "for 
something  deeper  than  beauty.5' 

Susceptibility  to  women  as  women  made  Haydn  rather  un- 
critical of  them.  One  was  "the  most  beautiful  woman  I  ever  saw"; 
another,  "the  loveliest  woman  I  ever  saw."  These  were  but 
glances:  his  affections  were  directed  toward  Mrs.  John  Samuel 
Schroeter,  a  widow  of  mature  years.  What  began  as  music  lessons 
ended  as  something  far  more  intense:  she  was  soon  addressing  her 
elderly  music  master  as  "my  dearest  love."  As  for  Haydn,  he 
cherished  a  packet  of  her  letters  until  his  death,  and  once  said, 
"Those  are  from  an  English  widow  who  fell  in  love  with  me.  She 
was  a  very  attractive  woman  and  still  handsome,  though  over 
sixty;  and  had  I  been  free  I  should  certainly  have  married  her." 

It  may  be  that  Mrs.  Schroeter's  matronly  charms  played  their 
part  in  keeping  Haydn  in  London.  At  any  rate,  he  dallied  there 
until  June,  1792 — a  full  year  and  a  half  after  his  arrival — and  then 
set  out  for  the  Continent.  He  traveled  by  way  of  Bonn,  where  the 
young  Beethoven  presented  himself,  and  submitted  a  cantata  for 
criticism.  Haydn's  generous  praise  may  well  have  spurred  Bee- 
thoven to  study  in  Vienna.  In  December,  Beethoven  began  to  take 
lessons  from  Haydn.  From  the  beginning,  they  misunderstood 
each  other:  the  young  musical  rebel  puzzled  Haydn,  while  the  im- 
patient Beethoven  rather  unfairly  regarded  his  aging  teacher  as  a 
fogy.  Haydn  was  too  old  to  realize  the  scope  and  significance  of 
Beethoven's  music— to  him  certain  aspects  of  it  seemed  senseless 
license.  But  in  the  course  of  years,  Beethoven  came  to  appreciate 
his  teacher's  musical  genius.  Yet,  the  relationship  between  the  two 
men  was  nothing  more  than  a  protracted  casual  meeting — they 
were  never  actually  friends,  and  their  influence  on  each  other  was 
negligible.  Beethoven  said  flatly,  "I  never  learned  anything  from 

Wanderlust — and  a  dazzling  new  contract  from  Salomon — 
called  Haydn  back  to  England  after  a  year  and  a  half  in  Vienna. 
He  arrived  in  London  in  February,  1794,  and  it  is  worth  recording 

lib  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

that  he  carefully  chose  lodgings  near  Mrs.  Schroeter's  house.  This 
is  the  single  tantalizing  scrap  of  knowledge  preserved  about 
Haydn's  love  affair  during  this  second  visit.  Warm  though  London 
had  been  to  him  when  he  first  reached  England,  it  now  offered 
him  an  adulation  it  had  lavished  on  no  composer  since  Handel. 
After  six  new  symphonies  had  been  performed,  the  public  clam- 
ored for  a  repetition  of  the  first  set.  His  benefit  concert  netted  him 
£400.  The  royal  family  took  him  up:  George  III,  whose  first 
loyalty  to  Handel  never  flagged,  was  somewhat  restrained  in  his 
ardors,  but  the  Prince  of  Wales  invited  Haydn  to  Carlton  House 
twenty-six  times.  It  was  for  these  performances  that  Haydn  pre- 
sented to  Parliament  his  famous  bill  for  the  extremely  modest  sum 
of  £100. 

Again  Haydn  found  it  difficult  to  tear  himself  away:  he  re- 
mained in  England  for  more  than  eighteen  months,  playing  the 
social  game  heavily.  During  the  summer  of  1794  he  moved  lei- 
surely from  one  spa  or  country  seat  to  another.  His  diary  is  bare  of 
references  to  music:  he  was  much  exercised  over  the  character  of 
Mrs.  Billington,  the  actress,  whose  frank  memoirs  were  the  current 
scandal.  He  remarked  on  the  national  debt,  preserved  the  Prince 
of  Wales'  favorite  recipe  for  punch,  and  looked  in  at  the  trial  of 
Warren  Hastings.  Not  even  the  price  of  table  delicacies  escaped 
his  omnivorous  curiosity:  "In  the  month  of  June  1792  a  chicken, 
73.;  an  Indian  (a  kind  of  bittern  found  in  North  America),  9  s.; 
a  dozen  larks,  i  coron  [crown?].  N.  B. — If  plucked,  a  duck,  5  s." 
Haydn  relished  a  good  joke,  and  the  best  ones  he  heard  also  went 
into  his  diary.  Certain  lines  about  the  comparative  morals  of 
English,  French,  and  Dutch  women  are  too  graphic  for  publica- 
tion. So,  busily  jotting  down  fresh  items  along  the  way,  he  returned 
to  Vienna  early  in  September,  1795. 

With  this  second  London  visit,  Haydn  wrote  finis  to  his  career 
as  a  symphonist.  That  career,  extending  over  more  than  thirty- 
five  years,  had  produced  no  fewer  than  one  hundred  and  four  sep- 
arate symphonies,  many  of  high  quality,  but  less  notable  for  their 
variety.  The  fact  that  his  earliest  trial  balloons  are  worthless 
museum  pieces  is  easily  explained:  learning  to  write  for  the 
orchestra  was  to  Haydn  a  slow  and  painful  process  completed 
Comparatively  late  in  life,  and  he  had  no  models.  He  literally 
evolved  the  symphony  from  the  orchestral  suite  and  the  clavier 

HAYDN  117 

sonatas  of  Karl  Philipp  Emanuel  Bach  by  laborious  trial  and  error. 
The  wonder  is  that  he  found  the  essential  symphonic  form  as 
quickly  as  he  did:  to  perfect  it  (within  his  recognized  limitations, 
of  course)  took  years.  For  almost  a  quarter  of  a  century  he  con- 
tinued to  write  symphonies  for  his  small  court  orchestra,  many 
of  which  are  delightful  and  witty,  and  almost  all  of  which  are 
within  the  same  narrow  range.  Their  individuality  rests  on  the- 
matic variety  alone. 

The  more  Haydn's  life  and  compositions  are  examined,  the 
clearer  it  becomes  that  Mozart  provided  the  stimulus  for  his 
emancipation  from  the  stiffness  of  his  earlier  manner.  The  differ- 
ence between  even  the  finest  of  Haydn's  pre-Mozartian  sym- 
phonies— the  "Farewell"  and  "La  Chasse"  for  example — and  a 
richly  mature  work  like  the  "Oxford"  is  not  an  obvious  one:  from 
first  to  last,  the  personality  of  Josef  Haydn  dominated,  and  limited, 
his  symphonic  conceptions.  But  in  the  later  works  this  personality 
expressed  itself  through  more  ample  resources — richer  orchestra- 
tion and  untrammeled  handling  of  musical  ideas.  With  Mozart, 
Haydn  finally  brought  the  purely  classical  symphony  as  far  as  it 
could  go  without  becoming  something  else.  In  the  twelve  "Salo- 
mon" Symphonies,  the  man  who  evolved  a  form  lifted  it  to  its 
zenith — a  phenomenon  unique  in  musical  history. 

These  twelve  symphonies  owe  their  supremacy  not  only  to  their 
freedom  of  expression,  but  also  to  the  fact  that  they  were  written 
for  the  best  and  largest  orchestra  Haydn  ever  knew.  It  would  ap- 
pear pathetically  inadequate  beside  one  of  the  perfectly  trained 
and  equipped  orchestras  of  our  own  day,  but  it  was  capable  of 
effects  quite  beyond  the  powers  of  the  little  household  band  at 
Esterhaz.  In  short,  before  composing  for  London,  Haydn  had 
never  had  a  chance  to  make  the  most  of  his  newly  discovered 
resources.  It  is  among  the  more  fascinating  ifs  of  musical  history  to 
speculate  on  what  he  might  have  done  if  he  had  had  this  vastly 
superior  organization  at  his  command  when  he  was  thirty  rather 
than  when  he  was  almost  sixty.  The  answer  seems  to  be,  on  the 
basis  of  everything  known  about  the  composer,  that  we  would 
have  many  more  symphonies  as  fine  as  the  "Oxford"  or  the  "Salo- 
mon" No.  5,  in  C  minor — but  nothing  different  in  kind.  Haydn 
achieved  his  ideal  of  formal  perfection,  and  there  is  no  evidence 
that,  in  his  symphonies  at  least,  he  ever  wanted  anything  more.  It 

Il8  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

took  a  restless,  eternally  dissatisfied  temperament  like  Beethoven's 
to  weld  the  symphony  into  a  tremendous  emotional  vehicle.* 

The  truth  is  that  Haydn's  symphonies  perfectly  express  his  per- 
sonality and  its  rather  limited  outlook.  Nobody  goes  to  them  for  the 
Aeschylean  tragedy  of  Beethoven  or  the  transcendent,  unearthly 
serenity  of  Mozart — nor  can  you  wallow  with  Haydn  as  you  can 
with  Tchaikovsky.  Haydn  is  a  prose  writer,  and  as  such,  un- 
equaled.  He  is  the  Addison  and  Steele  of  music,  with  the  former's 
flawless  touch  and  the  latter's  robust  humor  and  lustiness  of  out- 
look. Any  one  of  his  great  symphonies  is  the  man  in  small:  one  and 
all  they  breathe  his  sunny  disposition,  his  wit,  his  irrepressible  high 
spirits,  and  his  sane  and  healthy  love  of  life.  When  his  inspiration 
flagged,  his  untroubled  faith  degenerated  into  smugness,  his  desire 
for  formal  perfection  into  schoolmasterly  finickiness.  But  his  best 
symphonies  are  canticles  of  life  enjoyed  to  the  full — works  of  lively 
beauty  that  rank  just  below  the  best  of  Mozart  and  Beethoven. 
"Haydn  would  have  been  among  the  greatest/'  Bernard  Shaw 
once  wrote,  "had  he  been  driven  to  that  terrible  eminence." 

When  Haydn  returned  to  Vienna  he  abandoned  the  symphony, 
the  form  with  which  his  name  is  most  popularly  connected. 
He  was  sixty-three  years  old,  and  some  of  his  well-meaning  ad- 
mirers had  begun  to  treat  him  as  though  he  were  dead.  They  in- 
vited him  to  Rohrau,  and  showed  him  a  monument  to  his  fame. 
His  reaction  is  not  recorded,  but  he  was  properly  overcome  with 
emotion  when  he  visited  the  house  where  he  had  been  born.  He 
knelt  down,  solemnly  kissed  the  threshold,  and  pointing  dramati- 
cally at  the  stove,  declared  that  on  that  very  spot  his  musical  career 
had  begun.  Despite  this  premature  commemorative  service,  he 
returned  to  Vienna,  and  continued  to  be  thoroughly  alive. 

The  main  reason  for  Haydn's  return  from  England  had  been  a 
pressing  invitation  from  a  new  Prince  Esterhazy,  who  wished  him 
to  resume  his  old  position.  Haydn  consented,  for  the  duties  were 
comparatively  light,  entailing  a  few  months  each  year  at  Eisen- 
stadt,  and  the  composition  of  some  perfunctory  occasional  pieces, 
notably  an  annual  Mass  on  the  Princess'  name  day.  But  now 

*  The  general  lines  of  this  argument  are  not  affected  by  the  recent,  and  loving, 
exhumation  of  five  typical  symphonies  of  the  master's  late  middle  period,  ranging 
from  1779  to  1786.  Pieced  together  by  Dr.  Alfred  Einstein  from  old  manuscripts  and 
early  editions,  they  were  performed  for  the  first  time  in  New  York  during  1939,  by 
the  orchestra  of  the  New  Friends  of  Music,  under  Fritz  Stiedry, 

HAYDN  119 

Haydn  was  so  famous  that  it  was  he  who  conferred  an  honor  on  the 
Esterhazys,  rather  than  they  on  him.  In  fact,  excepting  Francis  II 
and  Metternich,  he  was  the  most  famous  living  Austrian.  It  was 
natural.,  therefore,  that  in  1797,  when  the  Imperial  authorities 
wished  to  combat  revolutionary  influences  that  had  seeped  into 
Austria  from  France,  they  should  ask  Haydn  to  help  by  composing 
an  air  that  could  be  used  as  a  national  anthem.  Basing  it  on  words 
by  the  "meritorious  poet  Haschka,"  he  not  only  achieved  his  am- 
bition of  equalling  God  Save  the  King — he  far  surpassed  it.  Gott  er- 
halte  Franz  den  Kaiser,  musically  the  finest  national  anthem  ever 
written,  served  its  purpose  perfectly  until  1938,  when  it  was 
officially  superseded  by  Deutschland  uber  Alles  (to  the  Haydn 
melody)  and  the  Horst  Wessel  Song.  Haydn's  hymn  was  first  sung 
on  the  Emperor's  birthday — February  12,1 797 — at  the  National- 
theater  in  Vienna.  Francis  II  himself  attended  in  state,  and  on 
the  same  day  it  was  sung  at  the  principal  theaters  throughout  the 
Empire.  It  has  always  been  the  most  popular  of  Haydn's  songs. 
But  God  Save  the  King  was  not  the  only  English  music  Haydn 
wished  to  emulate.  While  in  London,  he  went  to  a  performance  of 
Messiah,  during  which  he  was  heard  to  sob,  "Handel  is  the  master 
of  us  all."  Later  he  heard  Joshua,  and  was  even  more  moved,  say- 
ing to  a  friend  that  "he  had  long  been  acquainted  with  music,  but 
never  knew  half  its  powers  before  he  heard  it,  as  he  was  perfectly 
certain  that  only  one  inspired  author  ever  did,  or  ever  would,  pen  so 
sublime  a  composition."  Just  before  Haydn  left  London,  Salomon 
handed  him  a  sacred  text  originally  contrived  for  Handel  partly 
from  Paradise  Lost  and  partly  from  Genesis.  A  friend  of  Haydn's 
made  a  free  translation  of  it,  and  the  composer  set  to  work.  "Never 
was  I  so  pious  as  when  composing  The  Creation"  Haydn  declared. 
"I  knelt  down  every  day  and  prayed  God  to  strengthen  me  for  my 
task."  However,  things  did  not  go  smoothly.  At  times  the  infirmi- 
ties of  age  dammed  up  the  flow  of  his  creative  genius.  Like  Di 
Lasso  in  his  old  age,  Haydn  began  to  suffer  from  melancholia  and 
nerves,  but  he  had  reserves  of  peasant  energy  that  the  pampered 
Fleming  lacked.  So  he  came  through  with  a  masterpiece  after 
eighteen  difficult  months.  On  April  29,  1798,  The  Creation  was  first 
produced  privately  at  the  palace  of  Prince  Schwarzenburg,  in 
Vienna.  Little  less  than  a  year  later,  it  was  performed  publicly  on 
Haydn's  name  day — March  19 — at  the  Nationaltheater.  It  was 

I2O  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

an  immediate  success,  and  soon  was  being  heard  by  appreciative 
audiences  throughout  Europe.  Even  Paris,  which  did  not  like 
oratorio,  capitulated.  More,  the  French  performers  had  a  medal 
struck  in  homage  to  the  composer.  In  England,  the  work,  trans- 
lated back  into  execrable  English,  rapidly  became  a  runner-up  to 

Time  has  not  been  kind  to  The  Creation:  it  has  been  all  but 
crowded  out  of  the  repertoire.  There  are  various  reasons  for  this, 
the  main  one  being  the  advent  of  Mendelssohn  and  his  catchy  ora- 
torios. Under  this  onslaught,  only  a  consistently  effective  work 
could  hold  its  place.  The  Creation  is  by  no  means  consistently  effec- 
tive. Although  "The  Heavens  are  telling"  is  magnificent  choral 
writing,  most  of  the  choruses  are  feeble — an  inexcusable  fault  in 
an  oratorio.  As  the  musical  climax  comes  in  the  first  third,  the 
rest  of  The  Creation.,  despite  scattered  beauties,  is  anticlimactic. 
The  exact  truth  is  that  after  Haydn  has  created  his  two  main 
characters,  he  does  not  know  how  to  make  them  dramatic.  The 
best  passages  are  descriptive — &  kind  of  sublime  journalism.  They 
are  usually  solos,  and  lose  nothing  in  being  performed  alone. 
"With  verdure  clad'*  is  one  of  Haydn's  most  exquisite  inspirations: 
blending  simple  rapture  with  a  rare  contemplative  quality,  it  is 
one  of  Ms  infrequent  achievements  in  musical  poetry.  Unfortu- 
nately, the  fine  things  in  The  Creation  are  scattered  too  sparingly  to 
prevent  a  performance  of  the  whole  oratorio  from  being  a  chore  to 
the  listener.  He  rises  from  his  seat  with  the  paradoxical  feeling  that 
he  has  heard  a  masterpiece — but  a  very  dull  one. 

Enormously  pleased  by  the  success  of  The  Creation,  the  un- 
inspired translator  who  had  provided  its  text  began  to  badger 
Haydn  to  set  another  of  his  adaptations — this  time  of  James  Thom- 
son's The  Seasons.  The  old  man  was  not  too  pleased  with  the  pros- 
pect of  more  work:  he  was  in  failing  health,  and  doubted  his 
strength  to  complete  another  large  composition.  At  last  he  con- 
sented, and  The  Seasons  was  completed  in  a  remarkably  short  time. 
Yet  it  is  a  work  of  great  length,  requiring  two  evenings  for  an 
uncut  performance.  Generally,  it  is  not  inferior  to  The  Creation.  Cer- 
tainly it  is  far  livelier,  and  the  fact  that  it  has  had  to  take  a  back 
seat  is  largely  due  to  its  comparatively  frivolous  (and  absurdly 
adapted)  text,  which  is  less  congenial  to  stuffy,  single-minded  ora- 
torio societies.  Haydn  himself  recognized  the  absurdity  of  the 

HAYDN  121 

German  words,  and  was  inclined  to  regard  The  Seasons  as  a  step- 
child. He  once  remarked  petulantly  to  Francis  II  that  "in  The 
Creation  angels  speak,  and  their  talk  is  of  God;  in  The  Seasons  no 
one  higher  speaks  than  Farmer  Simon.55 

Haydn's  attitude  to  The  Seasons  was,  to  say  the  least,  ambiguous. 
Nowhere  did  he  more  successfully  transmute  his  lifelong  love  of 
nature  into  music.  Page  after  page  is  inspired  by  the  Austrian 
countryside  and  the  manifold  aspects  of  its  life.  The  vivid  de- 
scriptiveness  of  this  music  is  its  most  immediately  engaging  quality, 
and  it  is  no  wonder  that  its  early  listeners  delighted  in  the  literal 
transcriptions  of  country  sounds  in  which  it  is  rich.  But  Haydn  was 
furious  when  these  mimetic  passages  were  singled  out  for  special 
praise:  "This  French  trash  was  forced  upon  me/'  he  stormed.  His 
injustice  to  this  delicious  work  may  be  traced  to  a  well-founded 
conviction  that  the  exertion  of  composing  it  had  finally  made  him  a 
feeble  old  man.  At  any  rate,  his  creative  life  was  over.  After  com- 
posing The  Seasons,  he  dragged  out  eight  years,  subsisting  on  the 
bitter  diet  of  past  accomplishments.  He  lived  in  a  pleasant  house 
in  the  Mariahilf  suburb  of  Vienna,  which  his  wife  had  fondly 
hoped  to  inhabit  "when  I  am  a  widow."  Why  this  woman,  who 
was  three  years  Haydn's  senior,  expected  to  outlive  him  is  not 
clear.  She  died  in  1800,  and  her  widower  lived  the  rest  of  his  life 
in  the  Mariahilf  house. 

The  last  years  are  a  constant  record  of  mental  and  physical 
decline.  In  December,  1803,  Haydn  conducted  for  the  last  time. 
After  that,  he  was  confined  to  his  house  by  increasing  infirmities. 
His  already  enormous  fame  became  gigantic:  people  of  rank  and 
eminence  besieged  his  door;  learned  organizations  and  musical 
societies  delighted  in  honoring  him.  In  1804,  he  was  made  an 
honorary  citizen  of  Vienna.  When  Napoleon's  armies  occupied  the 
city,  many  French  officers  called  upon  him  to  pay  their  respects. 
When  he  was  feeling  comparatively  well,  he  received  his  visitors 
warmly,  often  showing  them  his  medals  and  diplomas,  and  ram- 
bling on  about  his  past.  But  more  often  than  not  callers  merely  con- 
fused and  upset  him,  and  his  only  wish  was  to  be  left  alone.  In  1806 
he  took  steps  to  discourage  visitors  by  having  a  card  printed,  bear- 
ing a  fragment  of  one  of  his  vocal  quartets,  with  these  words:  "Fled 
forever  is  my  strength;  old  and  weak  am  I!" 

During  these  last  years  none  were  more  considerate  than  the 

122  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Esterhdzys.  The  Prince  increased  Haydn's  pension  to  twenty- 
three  hundred  florins  annually,  and  paid  his  doctor.  The  Princess 
often  called  on  him.  In  1808,  four  days  before  his  seventy-sixth 
birthday,  his  admirers  wished  to  make  public  acknowledgement  of 
their  affection.  Prince  Esterhazy's  carriage  called  to  take  him  to 
the  University,  where  The  Creation  was  to  be  performed.  The  vener- 
able old  man  was  carried 'into  the  hall,  whereupon  the  entire 
audience  rose.  He  was  very  agitated.  When  Salieri,  Mozart's 
famous  enemy,  gave  the  sign  to  begin,  the  whole  house  was  stilled. 
Haydn  controlled  his  emotions  until  the  great  fortissimo  on  the 
words  "And  there  was  light."  He  then  pointed  upward,  and  ex- 
claimed loudly,  "It  came  from  on  high."  His  excitement  in- 
creased, and  it  was  thought  prudent  to  take  him  home  after  the 
first  part.  As  he  was  carried  out  of  the  hall,  Beethoven  pressed 
forward  and  solemnly  kissed  the  master's  forehead  and  hands. 
On  the  threshold,  Haydn  raised  his  hand  in  benediction:  he  was 
saying  farewell  to  Vienna. 

Haydn  lingered  another  year,  growing  constantly  weaker  and 
less  and  less  master  of  his  emotions.  On  May  26,  1809,  he  had  his 
servants  carry  him  to  the  piano,  where  he  thrice  played  the 
Austrian  national  anthem  with  remarkable  strength  and  expres- 
siveness. It  was  his  last  effort:  he  died  five  days  later.  The  French, 
who  had  again  occupied  Vienna,  gave  him  a  magnificent  funeral, 
and  Requiems  were  sung  all  over  Europe. 

Our  own  time  is  rediscovering  Haydn.  He  was  submerged  dur- 
ing the  later  nineteenth  century — admittedly  a  classic,  but  usually 
kept  on  the  shelf.  In  view  of  the  fact  that  practically  only  his 
"Toy"  and  "Clock"  Symphonies  were  played,  he  was  in  danger  of 
being  thought  of  as  a  children's  composer.  The  renascence  of 
chamber  music  has  done  much  to  rehabilitate  him.  His  more  than 
eighty  string  quartets,  after  decades  of  neglect,  are  re-emerging  as 
his  most  characteristic  works.  They  were  little  publicized  during 
his  lifetime  because  of  the  very  circumstances  of  performance. 
They  are  much  heard  now,  and  a  society  has  been  formed  to 
record  them.  They,  as  much  as  the  symphonies  and  the  fresh  and 
delightful  piano  sonatas,  give  point  to  the  saying,  "Haydn  thought 
in  sonatas."  Possibly  we  hear  Haydn  best  in  the  quartets,  for  they 
are  performed  today  "exactly  as  he  wrote  them.  By  their  very  na- 
ture, they  cannot  seem  thin,  as  the  symphonies  sometimes  do  to 

HAYDN  123 

ears  accustomed  to  the  augmented  orchestras  of  Wagner,  Strauss, 
and  Stravinsky.  Nor  have  the  instruments  of  the  quartet  changed 
since  Haydn's  day,  as  the  piano  has. 

Haydn  has  been  called  the  father  of  instrumental  music,  which 
is  true  in  spirit  if  not  in  entire  substance.  His  almost  unique  ability 
to  create  and  perfect  musical  forms  was  due  largely  to  his  freedom 
from  academic  dead  letter.  "What  is  the  good  of  such  rules?"  he 
once  asked.  "Art  is  free,  and  should  be  fettered  by  no  such  me- 
chanical regulations.  The  educated  ear  is  the  sole  authority  on  all 
these  questions,  and  I  think  I  have  as  much  right  to  lay  down  the 
law  as  anyone.  Such  trifling  is  absurd;  I  wish  instead  that  some- 
one would  try  to  compose  a  really  new  minuet."  This  liberalism 
infuriated  some  of  Haydn's  pedantic  colleagues,  two  of  whom  once 
denounced  him  to  the  Emperor  as  a  charlatan.  But  he  was  a  pro- 
found student,  and  as  careful  a  craftsman  as  ever  lived.  When  his 
strength  no  longer  matched  his  inspiration,  he  lamented  to  the 
pianist  Kalkbrenner,  "I  have  only  just  learned  in  my  old  age  how 
to  use  the  wind  instruments,  and  now  that  I  do  understand  them,  I 
must  leave  the  world." 

This  free  and  living  attitude  toward  music  is  central  in  Haydn. 
It  allowed  him,  for  example,  to  use  the  rich  store  of  folk  melody 
always  available  to  him,  and  to  use  it  without  scruple — Bee- 
thoven's debt  to  him  in  this  respect  has  not  been  sufficiently 
acknowledged.  It  allowed  him  to  perpetuate  the  robust  jokes  of 
the  period  not  only  in  his  diary,  but  also  in  his  music.  It  allowed 
him  to  breathe  life  into  the  form  that  Karl  Philipp  Emanuel  Bach 
had  left  quivering  on  the  brink  of  being,  and  to  stamp  it  with  the 
three-dimensioned  qualities  of  a  generous  and  glowing  personality. 

Chapter  VI 

Wolfgang  Amadeus  Mozart 

(Salzburg,  January  27,  lysG-December  5,  1791,  Vienna) 

WHEN  Mozart  was  born,  Johann  Sebastian  Bach  had  been  dead 
six  years,  and  before  he  was  four  years  old  Handel,  too,  had 
vanished  from  the  scene.  In  his  Neapolitan  retreat,  Domenico 
Scarlatti  was  gambling  away  the  last  years  of  his  life.  The  great 
musicians  of  the  age  of  Bach  and  Handel  were  either  dead  or,  like 
Rameau,  were  no  longer  producing  work  of  any  consequence.  Nor 
had  most  of  their  successors  shown  what  they  could  do.  Gluck,  at 
forty-two,  was  diligently  imitating  the  Italians,  and  had  not  yet 
begun  his  reform.  Haydn  was  still  a  dark  horse:  if  he  was  known  at 
all,  it  was  as  the  accompanist  of  a  popular  Italian  singing  teacher. 
But  the  sonatas  of  Karl  Philipp  Emanuel  Bach  had  already  been 
published,  and  these  were  to  be  the  patterns  after  which  the  great 
instrumental  masterpieces  of  the  late  eighteenth  century  were  cut. 

The  age  of  the  baroque  was  passing,  and  a  more  delicate  and 
fantastic  style  was  taking  its  place.  The  rococo  is  merely  the 
baroque  seen  through  the  wrong  end  of  a  telescope,  and  with  a 
great  deal  of  superimposed  ornamentation.  It  lay  lightly  but 
tenaciously  on  architecture  and  decoration  for  some  decades, 
affecting  them  profoundly,  and  also  coloring  modes  and  manners 
and  the  other  arts.  Artifice  was  the  keystone  of  the  whole  pre- 
posterous structure:  chinoiserie,  jewelers'  whims,  plaster  scrollwork, 
exquisite  cabinetmaking,  theatrical  church  fronts,  and  coloratura 
roulades  were  accepted  as  proofs  of  civilization.  Petty  princes 
feverishly  transformed  their  capitals  into  monstrous  jewelboxes, 
and  none  sparkled  more  brilliantly  than  the  home  of  the  pleasure- 
loving  Archbishops  of  Salzburg.  No  more  appropriate  birthplace 
could  have  been  found  for  that  new  extravagance  of  the  eighteenth 
century — the  child  prodigy. 

The  childhood  of  Mozart  is  one  of  the  masterpieces  of  the  rococo. 
His  loving  but  ambitious  father  raised  him  on  the  principle  that  he 
was  a  performing  bear:  from  his  sixth  year  he  was  dragged  over 
the  map  of  Europe,  and  exhibited  as  a  marvel — which,  indeed,  he 
was.  Great  monarchs  made  much  of  him,  and  by  the  time  he  was 


MOZART  125 

fourteen  he  had  seen  the  interior  of  every  palace  from  London  to 
Naples.  His  amazing  virtuosity  and  facile  improvisations  made 
him  the  wonder  of  the  age.  The  boy's  compositions  were  so  re- 
markable that  skeptics  accused  his  father  of  having  written  them. 

Mozart's  early  passion  for  music  cannot,  like  Bach's,  be  traced 
to  a  long  family  tradition.  Leopold  Mozart,  his  father,  was  the  first 
of  an  obscure  family  of  country  bookbinders  to  forsake  the  an- 
cestral craft.  Settling  in  Salzburg,  he  had  by  dogged  determination 
risen  to  be  fourth  violinist  in  the  Archbishop's  band.  Also,  being  a 
fine  figure  of  a  man,  he  managed  to  secure  a  pretty  wife.  He  was 
well  liked,  and  the  year  after  Wolfgang  Amadeus  was  born,  be- 
came court  composer  to  the  Archbishop,  Sigismund  von  Schratten- 
bach.  The  Mozarts  had  seven  children  in  all,  but  five  of  them  died 
in  infancy  owing  to  the  dampness  and  lack  of  sanitation  in  their 
otherwise  fine  house  in  the  Getreidegasse.  Leopold,  as  ambitious 
for  the  two  survivors  as  for  himself,  could  hardly  wait  until  his 
daughter  was  old  enough  to  begin  her  music  lessons.  Nannerl  was 
eight,  and  already  an  accomplished  performer  on  the  clavier, 
when  her  baby  brother  began  to  show  an  absorbing  interest  in  the 
musical  activities  of  the  household. 

Mozart  was  three  when  he  began  to  amuse  himself  at  the  key- 
board, and  the  next  year  his  formal  lessons  began.  At  five,  he  was 
improvising  little  minuets,  and  his  delighted  father  was  writing 
them  down.  Like  Each,  Leopold  Mozart  copied  into  a  notebook 
simple  pieces  for  his  children  to  study,  and  among  them  were  works 
by  Hasse,  Telemann,  and — most  important — Karl  Philipp 
Emanuel  Bach.  These  were  to  be,  for  a  while  at  least,  the  staples 
of  their  concerts.  Their  travels  began  in  1762  with  a  performance 
before  the  Elector  of  Bavaria  at  Munich,  The  tremendous  furore 
over  the  handsome  Wunderkinder  whetted  Leopold's  appetite,  and 
he  was  soon  busy  systematically  taking  advantage  of  their  childish 
appeal.  Later  the  same  year  they  proceeded  by  easy  stages  to 
Vienna,  concertizing  on  the  way.  Everywhere,  the  children's 
talent,  but  even  more,  Wolfgang's  charm,  made  friends  for  them, 
and  aroused  unprecedented  enthusiasm.  At  Vienna  they  found  the 
city  ready  to  receive  them  with  open  arms:  their  fame  had  pre- 
ceded them.  They  had  scarcely  arrived  when  a  command  invita- 
tion to  play  at  court  was  presented  at  their  lodgings. 

The  existence,  at  Schonbrunn,  of  the  most  musical  court  in 

126  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Europe  immeasurably  helped  Leopold  Mozart's  plans.  Every 
member  of  Maria  Theresa's  huge  family  sang  or  played  a  musical 
instrument.,  and  the  Empress  had  once  referred  to  herself  as  the 
first  of  living  virtuosos,  because  she  had  sung  in  a  court  opera  at 
the  age  of  seven.  Of  her  talented  daughters  the  caustic  Dr.  Burney 
said  that  they  sang  "very  well — for  princesses."  The  self-possessed 
little  Wolfgang  more  than  shared  Burney 3s  skepticism  about  Haps- 
burg  musicianship:  before  playing,  he  asked  loudly  for  the  Im- 
perial music  teacher:  "Is  Herr  Wagenseil  here?  Let  him  come. 
He  knows  something  about  it."  The  court  went  mad  about  the 
children,  and  the  little  boy  who  was  forever  asking,  "Do  you  love 
me?  Do  you  really  love  me?"  warmed  characteristically  to  this 
show  of  affection,  jumping  on  the  Empress'  lap  and  hugging  and 
kissing  her.  Besides  a  gift  of  money,  the  children  each  received  a 
court  costume  from  Maria  Theresa,  and  sat  for  a  portrait.  Wolf- 
gang, looking  very  pert  and  pleased,  was  painted  in  his  sumptuous 
suit  of  stiff  lavender  brocade  and  gold  lace. 

The  nobility  promptly  followed  the  court's  lead,  and  soon  the 
Mozarts  had  invitations  to  the  best  houses  in  Vienna.  Suddenly 
the  prodigy  fell  ill  of  scarlet  fever,  and  before  he  recovered,  in- 
terest in  him  and  his  sister  had  somewhat  abated.  With  hopes  a 
little  dashed,  they  were  back  in  Salzburg  by  the  beginning  of  1 763. 
Six  months  elapsed  before  their  next  tour.  To  this  period  belongs 
the  piously  attested,  but  completely  incredible,  story  of  Mozart 
picking  up  a  violin  and  playing  it  with  no  previous  training.  Only 
slightly  less  suspicious  is  his  alleged  mastery  of  the  organ — includ- 
ing the  pedals — at  first  try.  His  general  musical  virtuosity,  which 
would  have  been  remarkable  in  a  grown  man,  was  so  phenomenal 
in  a  seven-year-old  that  witnesses,  and  particularly  his  doting 
father,  hypnotized  themselves  into  an  inability  to  sift  the  pro- 
digious from  the  impossible. 

Leopold  Mozart's  plans  for  the  second  tour  partook  of  the 
grandiose:  with  Paris  and  London  as  their  goals,  they  were  to 
progress  across  Europe  like  genial  musical  deities  dispensing  their 
favors.  As  they  set  out  in  June,  their  way  led  through  the  summer 
capitals  of  the  reigning  princes,  who  received  them  with  amazed 
enthusiasm.  At  Aix-la-Chapelle  one  of  Frederick  the  Great's 
sisters  tried  to  lure  them  to  Berlin.  But  the  royal  lady,  while  lavish 
with  promises,  was  penniless — and  Leopold  Mozart  was  on  his 

MOZART  127 

way.  At  Frankfort,  the  fourteen-year-old  Goethe  heard  the  "little 
man,  with  his  powdered  wig  and  sword."  By  mid-November  they 
arrived  in  Paris,  where  they  remained  five  months.  Here,  after 
some  delay,  their  Viennese  triumph  was  repeated  and  not  only 
the  court  but  the  intellectuals  took  them  up.  At  Versailles,  the 
strict  conventions  of  the  court  of  Louis  XV  relaxed  momentarily— 
while  the  Mozarts  were  there,  it  was  like  a  family  party.  Only  the 
haughty  Pompadour  remained  aloof  until  Mozart  innocently  put 
her  in  her  place.  "Who  is  this  that  does  not  want  to  kiss  me?"  he 
asked.  "The  Empress  kisses  me."  What  doors  remained  closed 
despite  court  favor  were  opened  through  the  generous  offices  of  the 
influential  Baron  Grimm,  a  German  who  had  become  one  of  the 
leaders  of  French  thought.  Before  leaving  Paris,  Leopold  Mozart 
had  the  satisfaction  of  seeing  his  children  completely  capture 
French  society.  He  signalized  their  triumph  by  having  four  of 
Wolfgang's  sonatas  for  violin  and  clavier  published,  the  first  two 
with  a  dedication  to  Mme  Victoire,  one  of  the  King's  daughters. 

At  London  they  found  another  musical  family  on  the  throne. 
George  III  and  Queen  Charlotte,  who  were  uniformly  kind  to 
musicians,  not  only  showered  favors  on  them  at  court,  but  also, 
as  Leopold  Mozart  noted  with  pride,  nodded  to  them  while  out 
driving  in  St.  James'  Park.  The  Queen's  music  master,  Johann 
Christian  Bach,  the  youngest  of  Johann  Sebastian's  sons,  and 
Handel's  successor  as  undisputed  arbiter  of  English  music,  was 
entranced  by  the  wonderful  boy,  and  played  musical  games  with 
him.  The  affectionate  child  never  forgot  Bach.  The  children's  first 
public  concert  was  such  a  success  that  their  father  confessed  him- 
self "terrified"  by  the  size  of  the  box-office  receipts.  Probably  the 
excitement  of  a  successful  and  fashionable  London  season  was  too 
much  for  him,  for  he  took  to  his  bed  for  seven  weeks  with  a  throat 
ailment.  In  the  interim,  Wolfgang  composed,  and  at  the  next  con- 
cert all  the  pieces  were  his  own.  In  all,  the  family  was  in  London 
more  than  a  year,  and  rather  outstayed  its  welcome. 

The  Mozarts  now  turned  their  steps  homeward,  but  so  circuitous 
was  their  route,  and  so  indifferent  their  health  (only  Frau  Mozart 
was  exempt  from  illness),  that  they  were  on  the  road  more  than  a 
year.  After  playing  at  the  court  of  the  Prince  of  Orange  at  The 
Hague,  they  returned  to  Versailles,  where  they  were  again  warmly 
welcomed.  A  happy  summer  in  Switzerland  followed.  From 

128  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Geneva  they  drove  out  to  call  on  Voltaire  at  Ferney,  but  the  lion 
was  sick  abed,  and  they  were  refused  admittance.  After  a  tri- 
umphal journey  up  the  Rhine,  they  finally  returned  to  Salzburg  in 
November,  1766,  having  been  away  from  home  three  and  a  half 

Leopold  Mozart  did  not  let  any  grass  grow  under  his  feet. 
Nannerl,  at  sixteen,  was  definitely  through  as  a  child  prodigy,  and 
he  cannily  decided  to  concentrate  on  the  eleven-year-old  boy,  who 
had  always  been  the  family's  stellar  attraction.  By  a  lot  of  well- 
timed  boasting,  the  wily  impresario  managed  to  arouse  the  skepti- 
cism of  his  master,  the  Archbishop.  His  Grace  decided  to  stop  his 
retainer's  loud  mouth  by  putting  this  alleged  Wunderkind  to  a  stiff 
test:  he  divided  the  text  of  an  oratorio  between  Wolfgang,  the 
court  conductor,*  and  the  cathedral  organist,  keeping  the  boy  in 
solitary  confinement  while  he  composed  his  part.  The  music  was 
evidently  satisfactory,  for  the  oratorio  was  both  performed  and 
published  the  same  year.  Archbishop  von  Schrattenbach  no  longer 
doubted,  and  gave  proof  of  his  conversion  in  increased  friendliness 
toward  the  Mozarts. 

Soon  the  family  was  off  to  Vienna  again,  hoping  to  play  an  im- 
portant role  in  an  impending  royal  marriage.  But  a  smallpox 
epidemic  frustrated  their  little  scheme:  the  intended  bride  suc- 
cumbed, and  the  Mozarts  fled  to  Olmiitz,  where  the  two  children 
came  down  with  the  disease,  Wolfgang  being  blinded  for  nine 
days.  After  being  nursed  back  to  health  in  the  home  of  a  humane 
and  fearless  nobleman,  they  returned  to  the  capital,  where  they 
found  the  court  plunged  in  mourning.  Nevertheless,  Maria 
Theresa  and  her  son  Josef  II  received  them  kindly.  Although  ex- 
ceedingly stingy,  the  new  Emperor  commissioned  Wolfgang  to 
write  an  opera.  The  boy  accordingly  composed  La  Finta  semplice  in 
record  time,  but  faction  ran  so  high  that  it  was  not  actually  pro- 
duced until  months  later,  and  then  in  Salzburg  by  order  of  the 
Archbishop,  who  was  so  delighted  that  he  gave  Wolfgang  a  high- 
sounding  but  unpaid  position  in  his  musical  household.  A  second 
opera,  Bastien  und  Bastienne,  which  was  written  for  Dr.  Franz 
Anton  Mesmer,  a  respectable  precursor  of  Mary  Baker  Eddy,  fared 
better.  Zealots  have  revived  it  in  late  years,  but  it  is  in  reality  a 

*  Josef  Haydn's  talented  brother  Michael,  of  whose  roistering  ways  the  tight- 
lipped  Leopold  Mozart  strongly  disapproved. 

MOZART  129 

musical  curio  faintly  adumbrating  the  mature  style  of  Mozart's 
other  German  operas — Die  Entfuhrung  aus  dem  Serail  and  Die 

They  rested  in  Salzburg  almost  a  year,  for  Leopold  Mozart  was 
planning  nothing  less  than  a  conquest  of  Italy.  There  was  no 
respite  for  Wolfgang:  he  spent  these  eleven  months  composing 
pieces  of  all  descriptions,  and  practicing,  practicing,  practicing. 
Then,  after  bidding  Frau  Mozart  and  Nannerl  an  affectionate 
adieu,  the  travelers  set  out  armed  with  a  battery  of  gilt-edged 
introductions.  Crossing  the  Brenner  in  the  dead  of  winter,  they  ar- 
rived, after  a  series  of  spectacular  successes,  at  Milan,  where  they 
enjoyed  the  exalted  patronage  of  the  Governor  General.  Here 
Wolfgang  received  the  blessing  of  Gluck's  venerable  teacher,  Sam- 
martini.  Parma,  Bologna,  Florence,  Rome,  Naples — all  capitu- 
lated to  Wolfgang.  He  keenly  missed  his  mother  and  Nannerl, 
and  talked  to  them  through  letters  that  teem  with  amazingly  frank 
and  incisive  comments  on  the  music  he  heard,  the  famous  people 
he  met,  and  the  customs  of  the  country.  Like  Juvenal,  he  en- 
countered nothing  he  did  not  stuff  into  his  conversational  ragbag. 
Some  of  these  letters  are  so  coarse  (to  our  taste  but  not  to  that  of 
the  eighteenth  century)  that  their  pious  editors  have  scarcely  left 
one  unbowdlerized.*  Mozart  is  always  in  high,  and  very  often  in 
ribald,  spirits.  In  short,  it  is  almost  impossible  to  believe  that  these 
are  the  letters  of  a  thirteen-year-old  boy  to  his  mother  and  sister. 
But  it  must  be  remembered  that  he  was  already  an  old  trouper. 

At  Bologna,  the  recognized  center  of  Italian  musical  theory, 
Mozart  was  examined  by  the  most  eminent  of  its  professors — the 
old  Padre  Martini — and  passed  with  flying  colors.  Much  the  same 
tests  awaited  him  at  Florence,  and  from  these  he  emerged  even 
more  brilliantly.  There,  too,  he  met  the  omnipresent  Dr.  Burney, 
and  enjoyed  a  tender  but  brief  friendship  with  Thomas  Linley,f  a 
talented  English  lad  of  exactly  his  own  age — and  no  doubt  a  vast 
relief  after  the  endless  catechisms  of  prying  sexagenarians.  There 
were  tears  at  parting,  avowals  of  eternal  friendship,  and  elaborate 

*  This  sentence  was  written  prior  to  Emily  Anderson's  superb  three-volume  anno- 
tated translation  of  the  Mozart  family  correspondence.  Miss  Anderson — a  civil 
servant  in  her  spare  time — is  pious,  in  the  best  sense  of  the  word.  She  sticks  to  the  text 
whatever  the  consequences. 

f  He  was  Richard  Brinsley  Sheridan's  brother-in-law.  His  death  at  the  age  of 
twenty-two  was  a  serious  loss  (say  pundits)  to  English  music,  then  starving  to  death 
from  lack  of  talent. 

I3O  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

plans  for  another  meeting.  But  their  gypsy  lives  kept  them  apart, 
and  they  never  met  again. 

The  Mozarts  reached  Rome  in  time  to  hear  the  Holy  Week 
music,  and  there  (appropriately  enough)  Wolfgang  performed  one 
of  his  miracles.  A  staple  of  these  celebrations  was  the  performance 
in  the  Sistine  Chapel  of  Allegri's  famed  Miserere,  a  contrapuntal 
labyrinth  in  nine  voices.  After  hearing  it  once,  the  boy  made  a 
copy  from  memory,  a  feat  that  attracted  the  friendly  interest  of 
Clement  XIV  and  brought  a  shower  of  invitations  from  the 
princely  Roman  families.  Amid  all  this  excitement,  Wolfgang  took 
time  to  send  Nannerl  a  request  for  some  new  minuets  by  Michael 
Haydn.  After  less  than  a  month  in  the  Holy  City,  they  set  out 
nervously  (their  way  lay  through  banditti-infested  territory)  for 
Naples.  They  visited  Pompeii,  looked  at  Vesuvius  "smoking  furi- 
ously," and  found  the  right  patrons,  among  them  Sir  William 
Hamilton,  the  English  ambassador,  now  remembered  only  as  the 
husband  of  Lord  Nelson's  Emma. 

Returning  north  to  spend  the  summer  near  Bologna,  father  and 
son  stopped  in  Rome  for  a  fortnight.  The  Pope  (or  his  deputy)  in- 
vested Wolfgang  with  the  Golden  Spur,  which  his  father  described 
loftily  as  "a  piece  of  good  luck,"  observing  further,  "You  can 
imagine  how  I  laugh  when  I  hear  people  calling  him  Signor 
Cavalier  e"  The  fact  that  his  son  had  the  same  order  as  Gluck  was  a 
great  satisfaction  to  the  ambitious  Leopold,  who  for  some  time  in- 
sisted that  Wolfgang  use  the  title  in  his  signature.  The  boy  was  less 
:mpressed,  and  soon  dropped  the  appellation.  Signal  honors 
awaited  him  at  Bologna,  where  the  Accademia  Filarmonica 
waived  its  age  limit  of  twenty  years,  and  elected  him  to  member- 
ship after  another  rigorous  test.  At  Milan  he  rushed  to  completion 
his  Mitridate,  Re  di  Ponto,  an  opera  the  Governor  General  had  com- 
missioned during  the  Mozarts'  first  visit.  It  was  a  sure-fire  hit, 
packing  the  opera  house  for  twenty  nights. 

At  last,  after  more  than  two  years'  wandering  in  the  peninsula, 
the  wayworn  troupers  were  back  in  Salzburg  in  March,  1771.  In 
Mozart's  pockets  were  two  important  commissions — another 
opera  for  Milan  and  an  oratorio  for  Padua,  and  soon  a  letter  came 
requesting  a  dramatic  serenata  for  the  nuptials  of  another  of 
Maria  Theresa's  numerous  progeny.  Five  months  of  feverish  com- 
posing followed,  and  then  another  trip  to  Milan,  where  Mozart's 

MOZART  131 

serenata  more  than  held  its  own  against  the  last  of  the  aged  Basse's 
innumerable  operas,  drawing  a  typically  Pecksniffian  comment 
from  his  father:  "It  really  distresses  me  very  greatly,  but  Wolf- 
gang's serenata  has  completely  killed  Hasse's  opera."  But  the  old 
man,  whose  luscious  arias  had  been  the  consolation  of  princes, 
said  with  true  generosity,  "This  boy  will  throw  us  all  into  the 

The  day  after  the  Mozarts  returned  home,  the  old  Archbishop 
died.  It  was  a  sadder  event  than  they  realized:  his  successor  was 
the  forever-to-be-vilified  Hieronymus  von  Colloredo,  Bishop  of 
Gurk.  His  reputation  was  already  so  grim  that  at  the  news  of  his 
election  Salzburg  all  but  went  into  mourning.  Of  course,  his  pro- 
motion called  for  special  musical  services,  and  though  he  was 
an  archbishop,  opera  was  particularly  specified.  As  if  avenging 
the  future,  Mozart,  selecting  one  of  Metastasio's  most  threadbare 
librettos,  proceeded  to  write,  in  II  Sogno  di  Scipione,  the  worst  opera 
he  ever  composed.  Indeed,  it  was  so  infernally  dull  that  it  might 
well  have  roused  resentment  in  a  more  charitable  man  than  Von 
Colloredo.  After  another  bout  of  composing,  Mozart  went  back 
to  Milan  for  six  months.  His  new  opera,  Lucio  Silla,  was  a  triumph, 
and  partly  on  the  strength  of  it  the  Governor  General  tried  to 
wangle  a  court  appointment  for  him  at  Florence.  But  the  negotia- 
tions came  to  nothing,  and  father  and  son  heavyheartedly  pre- 
pared to  brave  what  difficulties  Salzburg  under  the  new  dispensa- 
tion had  in  store  for  them.  They  recrossed  the  Brenner  in  March, 
1773:  Mozart  bade  farewell  to  Italy  for  the  last  time.  Half  of  his 
life  was  over. 

The  Mozarts  soon  found  their  worst  fears  realized:  conditions 
in  Von  Colloredo's  Salzburg  were  intolerable.  There  was  no 
pleasing  this  martinet  of  the  Church.  Obviously,  if  Wolfgang  were 
to  realize  his — or  his  father's — ambitions,  it  would  have  to  be 
somewhere  else.  Remembering  the  unfailing  friendliness  of  Maria 
Theresa,  the  Mozarts  decided  to  try  Vienna  first.  The  Empress  was 
just  as  kind  as  ever,  but  that  was  all:  they  came  away  empty- 
handed,  as  balked  of  remunerative  employment  here  as  in  Italy. 
But  failure  did  not  dam  the  flow  of  Wolfgang's  pen:  both  in  Vienna 

*  Hasse,  who  had  been  a  friend  of  Johann  Sebastian  Bach  without  recognizing  his 
genius,  could  more  easily  appreciate  the  Italianate  style  of  the  archnaimic  Mozart. 

132  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

and  after  returning  home,  he  continued  to  pile  up  work  for  his 
future  editors. 

Before  the  end  of  1774,  however,  it  seemed  that  if  Mozart 
played  his  cards  well  he  might  soon  free  himself  from  the  crushing 
routine  of  the  Salzburg  court.  Strings  were  pulled,  and  a  commis- 
sion for  an  opera  arrived  from  the  Elector  of  Bavaria.  The  results 
were  the  same  as  usual:  La  Finta  giardiniera  delighted  its  hearers, 
but  Mozart  lingered  vainly  in  Munich.  There  was  nothing  to  do 
but  return  dispiritedly  once  again  to  Salzburg — and  compose, 
compose,  compose.  Although  he  could  not  know  it,  his  apprentice- 
ship was  over:  for  the  first  time,  he  began  to  produce  music  that  is 
of  as  much  interest  to  music  lovers  as  to  experts.  He  got  into  his 
stride  with  a  festival  play,  II  Re  pastore,  in  honor  of  an  archducal 
visit.  As  opera,  it  is  lifeless  stuff,  but  among  several  tasteful  arias  is 
one  that  still  gets  an  occasional  airing:  "Uamero,  saw  costante"  Five 
brilliant  concertos  for  violin  and  orchestra  followed.  Doubtless 
Mozart  wrote  them  for  himself,  a$  his  father  wanted  him  to  be- 
come the  foremost  violin  virtuoso  in  Europe.  So,  while  the  urge 
was  on  him,  the  mercurial  youth  wrote  these  five  masterpieces  of 
his  c 'gallant"  style — and  thereafter  practically  abandoned  the 
violin  concerto.  Graceful,  and  brimming  over  with  dash  and  brio, 
these  delectable  pieces  are  as  alive  today  as  they  were  on  the  day 
they  were  written,  and  violinists  like  Heifetz,  Szigeti,  and  Menu- 
hin  delight  in  playing  them. 

Up  to  1775,  Mozart's  compositions  were  remarkable  chiefly 
because  they  were  written  by  a  boy.  Those  who  take  the  trouble 
to  work  through  the  volumes  of  Wyzewa  and  Saint-Foix's  ex- 
haustive treatise  on  the  early  Mozart  will  find  this  statement  amply 
corroborated  by  the  musical  quotations.  Aside  from  the  fact  that 
any  child  composer  is  something  of  a  phenomenon,  Mozart  is- 
doubly  remarkable  for  the  fecundity  of  his  gift  at  such  an  early 
age.  On  the  other  hand,  though  this  stupendous  output  naturally 
abounds  in  hints  of  his  own  peculiar  genius,  it  is  primarily  the  work 
of  an  extraordinarily  facile  and  sensitive  mimic,  echoing  the  styles 
and  forms  of  everyone  from  Karl  Philipp  Emanuel  Bach  to  Hasse. 
But  this  early  music,  which  on  superficial  examination  may  seem 
merely  clever,  is  actually  more:  it  is  the  voice  of  someone  trem- 
bling on  the  brink  of  greatness,  and  only  awaiting  respite  from  pa- 
ternal Stakhanovism  to  realize  his  genius.  And  the  proof  of  this  is 

MOZART  133 

that  as  soon  as  his  father  could  no  longer  exhibit  him  as  a  freak, 
and  he  was  thus  allowed  a  period  of  comparative  leisure,  Mozart 
began  to  write  music  that  is  unmistakably  his  own.  As  late  as 
January,  1775,  the  influential  critic,  C.  F.  D.  Schubart,  was  writ- 
ing with  a  kind  of  skeptical  faith:  "Unless  Mozart  should  prove  to 
be  a  mere  overgrown  product  of  the  forcing-house,  he  will  be  the 
greatest  composer  that  ever  lived." 

The  transition  from  adolescence  to  manhood,  always  a  difficult 
phase,  is  a  dramatic  crisis  in  the  life  of  a  prodigy.  Inevitably,  there 
is  danger  that  his  artistic  development  will  not  match  his  physical 
growth.  This  was  the  peril  confronting  Mozart,  his  family,  and 
his  well-wishers  in  1 775.  There  is  nothing  sadder  or  more  grotesque 
than  a  grown  man  with  the  mind  and  talents  of  the  brilliant  child 
he  was,  and  it  may  be  assumed  that  during  these  crucial  early 
seventies,  while  the  pretty  little  boy  was  changing  into  a  pleasant 
but  not  very  attractive  youth,  people  were  nervously  wondering 
whether  this  fate  was  in  store  for  him.  They  had  found  it  easy  to 
believe  that  such  a  delightful  little  creature  was  a  genius;  at  nine- 
teen they  found  him  less  convincing.  This  short,  slight  fellow,  with 
his  shock  of  blond  hair  and  rather  too  prominent  aquiline  nose, 
was  really  rather  commonplace-looking — by  no  means  a  good  ad- 
vertisement for  his  parents,  who  had  been  called  the  handsomest 
couple  in  Salzburg.  Nor  was  Mozart  insensitive  to  the  change:  to 
compensate  for  his  insignificant  appearance,  he  began  to  affect 
embroidered  coats  and  an  excessive  amount  of  jewelry,  and  took 
special  pains  with  his  hair,  of  which  he  was  very  vain. 

His  well-wishing  but  apprehensive  friends  could  not  know  what 
was  happening  inside  of  Mozart,  for  excepting  his  changed  ap- 
pearance he  seemed  much  the  same  as  always.  His  almost  morbidly 
affectionate  nature  was  possibly  a  bit  less  intense — the  genial 
Mozart,  with  his  taste  for  boon  companions,  billiards,  dancing,  and 
good  wine,  was  emerging.  As  a  child  he  had  been  precociously 
aware  of  women's  good  looks  (and  as  quick  to  criticize  lack  of 
them),  and  even  before  he  was  out  of  his  teens  he  began  to  show 
evidence  of  a  sexual  urge  that  seems  at  times  to  have  been  exces- 
sive. Yet,  despite  decidedly  mature  tastes,  he  remained  tied  to  his 
father's  apron  strings.  His  relationship  to  this  domineering,  schem- 
ing, and  ambitious  man  is  a  puzzle  to  the  twentieth-century 
reader.  Until  his  twenty-fifth  year  it  never  entered  his  head  to 

134  MEN  °F  MUSIC 

question,  much  less  to  disobey,  Leopold  Mozart's  fiats  on  every 
subject  under  the  sun,  and  he  never  tired  of  saying  that  he  con- 
sidered his  father  "next  to  God."  Unfortunately,  this  touching 
attitude  was  partly  an  excuse  for  his  own  unwillingness  and  in- 
ability to  make  decisions  for  himself.  It  had  served  a  certain  pur- 
pose in  the  past,  but  was  no  weapon  for  the  struggles  of  the  future. 

In  Leopold  Mozart's  house,  religion  always  held  a  prominent 
place.  He  was  a  devout  and  unquestioning  Catholic,  and  assumed 
that  his  children  would  emulate  him.  And  Wolfgang,  during  his 
childhood,  was  certainly  as  observant  of  Catholic  practices  as  his 
father  could  wish.  But  his  religion  was  as  much  a  sort  of  mimicry 
as  was  his  mastery  of  every  musical  style.  As  he  matured,  he  did 
not  so  much  rebel  against  the  Church  as  lose  interest  in  it.  The 
bulk  of  his  religious  music  was  composed  early,  and  though  it  has 
found  many  admirers,  it  would  not  of  itself  have  placed  Mozart 
among  the  immortals.  The  paradox  is  that  after  he  had  lost  his 
formal  Catholic  faith,  he  wrote  really  great  religious  music  based 
on  a  personal,  and  by  no  means  orthodox,  mysticism.  His  early 
Masses  and  smaller  church  pieces  are,  at  their  worst,  trivial.  Even 
the  best  of  them — a  Missa  brevis  in  F  major  (K.  192)* — is  an 
operatic  and  often  skittish  composition.  Indeed,  its  relation  to 
faith  and  devotion  seems  remote — the  solemn  words  of  the  text  not 
infrequently  trip  to  the  gayest  of  Neapolitan  dance  tunes.  The 
statement  has  often  been  made  that  Mozart's  choral  technique 
rivals  that  of  Bach:  if  true,  this  is  an  interesting  fact,  which  may 
well  be  pondered  as  we  listen  to  the  empty  loveliness  of  the  Missa 
brevis  and  the  even  shallower  one  in  D  (K.  194). 

The  year  1776  and  most  of  1777  are  baffling  to  those  who  expect 
to  see  the  promise  of  the  violin  concertos  immediately  fulfilled. 
Much  of  the  music  belonging  to  this  period  is  perfunctory,  and 
uninspired  by  any  emotion  other  than  a  desire  to  have  done  with 
it.  Mozart,  as  we  shall  see,  was  capable  of  turning  out  a  master- 
piece at  short  order,  but  the  business  of  grinding  out  salon  pieces 
for  a  patron  whom  he  thoroughly  despised  was  beginning  to  sap 
his  strength  and  impair  the  freshness  of  his  talent.  Feeling  the  way 

*  Mozart's  hundreds  of  compositions  are  identified  by  their  numbers  in  Dr. 
Ludwig  von  KochePs  thematic  catalogue,  here  abbreviated  as  K.  A  new  edition, 
with  some  changes  in  numbering,  was  published  in  1937,  under  the  editorship  of  Dr. 
Alfred  Einstein.  As  this  valuable  revision  is  not  yet  in  general  use,  we  have  preferred 
the  old  numbering. 

MOZART  135 

he  did,  it  is  amazing  that  he  managed  to  produce  anything  above 
the  mediocre.  Yet,  to  this  period  belong  a  really  effective  clavier 
concerto  (K.  271)  and  the  "Haffner"  Serenade,  written  for  the 
marriage  of  Burgomaster  Haffner's  daughter.  This  Serenade,  which 
incidentally  is  longer  than  the  average  symphony,  is  in  reality  a 
suite  of  unrelated  pieces,  themselves  very  uneven  in  quality.  There 
are  moments,  however,  when  the  accents  are  unmistakably  those 
of  the  Mozart  of  the  great  symphonies. 

By  September,  1777,  Mozart  had  reached  a  point  at  which  he 
could  no  longer  bear  the  inactivity  of  Salzburg.  All  of  his  desires 
were  to  compose  operas  and  symphonies — and  Von  Colloredo 
would  have  none  of  them.  So  the  birds  of  passage  applied  once 
more  for  leave  of  absence.  When  the  Archbishop  curtly  refused, 
Leopold  Mozart  drew  up  a  formal  petition.  This  time,  their  mas- 
ter's  reply  was  to  dismiss  them  both  from  his  service,  though  he 
reconsidered,  and  allowed  the  father  to  remain.  As  Wolfgang  was 
now  twenty-one,  he  naturally  believed  that  he  would  be  allowed 
to  travel  alone.  But  his  hopes  were  dashed:  his  father  had  no  in- 
tention of  unleashing  him  without  a  family  guardian.  As  he  him- 
self could  not  go,  he  delegated  Frau  Mozart — a  bad  choice,  for  she 
was  neither  very  strong  nor  very  clever.  Mother  and  son  set  out 
for  Munich  on  September  23,  1777.  Suddenly,  Leopold  Mozart 
realized  that  he  had  forgotten  to  give  Wolfgang  his  blessing.  He 
rushed  to  the  window  to  outstretch  a  benedictional  hand — and 
saw  the  carriage  vanishing  in  the  distance. 

Five  weeks  later,  the  Mozarts3  carriage  rumbled  into  Mannheim, 
a  bumbling  little  town,  but  the  seat  of  the  Elector  Palatine's  profli- 
gate and  brilliant  court.  Here  they  remained  more  than  four  months, 
for  Mannheim  boasted  the  finest  band  in  Europe.  Under  the  direc- 
tion of  the  renowned  Johann  Stamitz  and  his  successors,  it  had  so 
revolutionized  ensemble  playing  that  it  has  been  called  the  father 
of  the  modern  orchestra.  Mozart,  who  came  in  at  the  tail  end  of 
this  development,  missed  nothing  of  it,  and  lost  no  opportunity  of 
hearing  these  famous  players.  The  performances  of  opera  in  Ger- 
man interested  him  even  more,  and  through  these,  fate  (never 
very  kind  to  Mozart)  introduced  him  to  Fridolin  Weber,  one  of 
those  curious  personages,  mediocre  in  themselves,  but  certain  of 
immortality  because  of  their  connections  with  the  great.  This  little 
man,  copyist  and  prompter  at  the  opera,  was  to  be  Carl  Maria  von 

136  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Weber's  uncle  and  Mozart's  father-in-law.  In  1777,  Herr  Weber's 
greatness  was  all  in  the  future — but  he  had  a  family  of  daughters. 

Soon  Mozart's  letters  home  palpitated  with  praise  of  Aloysia 
Weber,  whom  he  painted  as  a  Rhenish  Venus  with  a  heavenly 
voice.  He  was  ready  to  abandon  everything,  and  in  the  combined 
role  of  teacher,  impresario,  composer,  accompanist,  and  lover, 
barnstorm  through  Italy  with  this  paragon,  who  would,  he  was 
sure,  captivate  Italian  hearts  forever.  But  he  did  not  reckon  with 
his  father:  the  awful  voice  spoke  from  Salzburg:  "Off  with  you  to 
Paris,  and  that  immediately!  Take  up  your  position  among  those 
who  are  really  great — aut  Caesar  aut  nihill"  Wolfgang  obeyed.  On 
March  14,  after  taking  leave  of  the  weeping  Webers,  Mozart  and 
his  mother  set  out  sadly  for  Paris.  Frau  Mozart  would  much  rather 
have  gone  home. 

But  Mozart  was  not  destined  to  be  a  Caesar  in  Paris,  which  was 
too  taken  up  with  the  quarrel  of  the  Gluckists  and  Piccinnists  to 
pay  any  attention  to  a  former  prodigy  with  no  stake  in  either  side. 
"People  pay  fine  compliments,  it  is  true,"  he  complained  to  his 
father,  "but  there  it  ends.  They  arrange  for  me  to  come  on  such 
and  such  a  day.  I  play,  and  hear  them  exclaim:  Oh,  c'est  unprodige, 
c'est  inconcevable,  c'est  etonnant,  and  with  that  good-by."  At  last,, 
however,  Mozart  found  one  noble  patron,  and  for  him  and  his 
daughter — virtuosos  both — he  composed  a  concerto  for  flute,  harp, 
and  orchestra  (K.  299)  abounding  in  delightful  themes,  despite  the 
fact  that  he  abhorred  both  flute  and  harp  as  solo  instruments. 
Marie  Antoinette,  who  had  done  so  much  for  "noire  cher  Gluck" 
insulted  Mozart  by  offering  him  an  ill-paid  organist's  job  at  Ver- 
sailles. His  mother's  mysterious  illness  added  to  his  worries.  In 
July  he  had  to  break  the  news  of  her  death  to  his  father  and  sister. 
Although  he  did  not  dissipate  his  energies  in  mourning,  neverthe- 
less the  appearance  of  his  genial  old  London  friend,  Johann  Chris- 
tian Bach,  must  have  been  welcome  to  the  lonely  youth.  But  Paris 
obviously  had  nothing  solid  to  offer  him — and  the  thought  of 
Aloysia  Weber  was  always  on  his  mind. 

Accordingly,  after  reluctantly  posting  his  acceptance  of  another 
court  appointment  his  father  had  wangled  for  him  in  Salzburg,* 
Mozart  turned  his  back  on  Paris.  Evidently  he  was  in  no  hurry  to 

*  Leopold  Mozart's  sly  hint  that  there  might  be  a  job  for  Aloysia  Weber  in  the 
choir  undoubtedly  helped  to  clinch  the  matter. 

MOZART  137 

keep  his  date  with  Von  Colloredo,  for  he  spent  four  months  on  the 
road.  Floods  detained  him  in  Strasbourg,  mere  sentimentality  in 
Mannheim  (for  the  Webers  had  already  proceeded  to  Munich  in 
the  Elector's  train) .  In  Mannheim,  however,  he  almost  wrote  two 
operas,  and  almost  became  a  conductor.  At  Munich,  where  he 
hoped  to  dally  long,  he  found  that  Aloysia  Weber  had  all  but  for- 
gotten him.  Not  even  a  sharp  reminder  from  Leopold  Mozart  that 
he  was  overdue  in  Salzburg  was  needed,  and  by  the  middle  of 
January,  1779,  a  very  dejected  young  man  had  returned  home. 

For  two  years,  Mozart  fretted  in  captivity.  He  was  court  Kon- 
zertmeister  and  organist,  but  despite  these  exalted  titles  was  no  bet- 
ter off  than  before.  Daily  the  rift  between  him  and  the  Archbishop 
grew  wider.  Worse,  he  began  to  realize  that  his  father  had  tricked 
him  into  returning  to  Salzburg,  and  though  the  old  affection  be- 
tween them  was  not  materially  impaired,  they  no  longer  trusted 
each  other.  It  is  not  at  all  strange  that  so  few  of  the  many  composi- 
tions of  these  two  years  show  Mozart  at  his  best.  The  most  notable 
exceptions  are  the  Sinfonia  Concertante  (K.  364),  his  only  Con- 
certo for  Two  Pianos  (K.  365),  and  the  Symphony  in  C  major 
(K.  338),  all  of  which  are  still  heard  occasionally.  The  first  of 
these  is  especially  fine — a  passionate,  deeply  felt  work  "not  at  all 
suited,"  as  Eric  Blom  has  observed,  "to  an  archiepiscopal  court." 

Mozart  was  still  lusting  after  the  fleshpots  of  opera,  and  probably 
with  the  idea  of  amateur  performance  in  Salzburg,  he  began  to 
amuse  himself  with  the  writing  of  that  curious  fragment  a  later 
editor  christened  £dide.  It  is  a  trifling  little  comedy — a  typical 
Singspiel — with  several  charming  airs  that  foreshadow  Mozart's 
masterpiece  in  this  genre — Die  Entfilhrung  aus  dem  SeraiL  Fortu- 
nately for  the  history  of  opera,  he  was  interrupted  by  a  long-desired 
invitation  to  compose  another  stage  work  for  Munich,  to  be  given 
during  the  carnival  of  1781.  The  result  was  Idomemo,  Re  di  Greta, 
a  tragic  opera  based  on  a  subject  from  Greek  mythology.  Mozart 
had  been  studying  Gluck,  but  unhappily  his  librettist  had  not  been 
studying  Calzabigi.  It  was  not  a  heaven-made  collaboration,  and 
the  composer  overcame  the  ponderousness  of  the  libretto  only  by 
slashing  it  unmercifully  and  writing  superior  music  for  what 

Idomeneo  is  essentially  a  compromise — the  fusing  of  Gluck's  con- 
ception of  music  as  the  handmaid  of  drama  and  Mozart's  far  su- 

138  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

perior  gifts  as  an  absolute  musician.  It  shows  clearly  that  Mozart 
had  taken  the  lessons  ofAlceste  to  heart,  but  without  being  shackled 
by  them.  If  Gluck  ever  heard  Idomeneo,  he  must  have  been  shocked 
— and  a  bit  envious — at  the  way  his  young  rival  allows  himself  to 
be  seized  by  a  purely  musical  idea,  and  suspends  the  drama  while 
he  soars  aloft.  Such  goings-on  were  outside  of  Gluck's  theories — 
and  beyond  his  powers.  The  pointedly  severe  orchestral  introduc- 
tion conforms  to  the  Gluckian  canon,  but  several  of  the  bravura 
arias  might  have  made  the  older  man  wonder  if  he  had  lived  in 
vain.  And  he  would  have  been  quite  right  about  the  solos  in  the 
last  act,  which  are  decidedly  conventional  singers'  exhibition  pieces. 
On  the  strength  of  the  mild  success  of  Idomeneo>  which  was  first 
performed  on  January  29,  1781,  Mozart  decided  to  remain  in 
Munich  to  enjoy  the  carnival,  and  to  haunt  the  Elector's  court — 
for  he  still  hoped  against  hope  that  he  would  be  asked  to  stay. 
Then,  suddenly  in  mid-March,  he  was  summoned  to  join  the  Arch- 
bishop, who  had  taken  his  grim  face  to  Vienna  for  Maria  Theresa's 
funeral,  and  the  following  months  were  among  the  most  critical  of 
his  life.  It  was  at  once  apparent  that  the  brutal  churchman  was 
bent  on  humiliating  Mozart  in  every  possible  way:  he  was  treated 
like  a  menial,  made  to  eat  at  the  servants'  table,  and  addressed  in 
a  fashion  usually  reserved,  even  under  that  outlandish  caste  sys- 
tem, for  underscullions  and  ruffians.  Those  who  have  tried  to  find 
some  slight  palliation  for  .Von  Colloredo's  conduct  seem  to  forget 
that  he  was  generally  detested  even  by  his  fellow  nobles.  Now  his 
treatment  of  Mozart  made  him  an  object  of  ridicule  among  those 
who  felt  themselves  honored  by  the  composer's  presence  at  their 
table.  Agitated  letters  passed  almost  daily  between  Mozart  and  his 
father,  with  the  latter  playing  his  usual  timeserving  role.  Mozart 
was  particularly  annoyed  because  the  Archbishop  forbade  him  to 
play  elsewhere  than  at  his  own  palace.  Events  hurried  toward  a 
crisis.  On  May  9,  he  had  an  audience  with  Von  Colloredo,  who 
shouted  at  him  like  a  fishwife.  Mozart  rushed  to  his  lodgings,  and 
drafted  two  letters:  the  first,  to  the  Archbishop,  asked  that  his 
resignation  be  accepted  immediately;  the  second,  to  his  father, 
asked  for  moral  support.  The  Archbishop  deigned  no  reply,  and 
Leopold  Mozart's  letter,  after  hinting  that  his  son  was  doomed  to 
perdition,  called  upon  him  to  submit.  This  Mozart  had  no  inten- 
tion of  doing.  After  waiting  a  full  month  for  Von  Colloredo's  an- 

MOZART  139 

swer,  he  once  more  presented  himself  at  the  palace.  This  time  he 
was  kicked  out  of  the  room  by  one  of  the  Archbishop's  toadies. 
This  was  His  Grace's  way  of  accepting  the  resignation. 

Even  before  finally  breaking  with  the  Archbishop,  Mozart  had 
enraged  his  father  by  moving  to  an  inn  where  the  nomadic  Webers 
were  staying.  Fridolin  was  dead,  Aloysia  had  married  one  Lange, 
an  actor,  and  now  the  family  was  presided  over  by  a  slatternly 
drunken  mother.  Having  failed  to  carry  off  Aloysia,  Mozart  now 
began  to  court  her  younger  sister,  Constanze.  Soon  Vienna  hummed 
with  gossip  of  the  goings-on  at  The  Eye  of  God,  as  the  inn  was 
called,  and  the  evil  news  trickled  to  Salzburg.  A  thunderous  de- 
nunciation came  from  the  tireless  old  busybody.  Mozart  denied 
everything,  including  any  intention  of  marrying.  Evidently  refer- 
ring to  alleged  irregularities  with  Constanze,  he  wrote  in  July,  "If 
I  had  to  marry  every  girl  I've  jested  with,  I'd  have  at  least  two 
hundred  wives  by  now.5'  But  for  discretion's  sake,  he  changed  his 
lodgings.  Before  the  year  was  up,  however,  Leopold  received  the 
bad  news  that  Wolfgang,  in  the  novel  role  of  a  Galahad,  was  de- 
termined to  rescue  poor  Constanze  from  her  unappreciative  family. 
"She  is  not  ugly,35  he  wrote,  "but  at  the  same  time  far  from  beau- 
tiful. Her  whole  beauty  consists  in  two  small  black  eyes,  and  a 
handsome  figure.  She  has  no  wit,  but  enough  sound  human  sense 
to  be  able  to  fulfill  her  duties  as  a  wife  and  mother.55 

What  finally  decided  Mozart  to  brave  his  father's  wrath  was  not 
only  his  loneliness  (and  the  insistence  of  Constanze' s  guardian  that 
he  make  an  honest  woman  out  of  her*),  but  also  an  apparent  im- 
provement in  his  worldly  position.  He  had  a  few  pupils,  some  of 
his  compositions  had  been  published,  and  once  more  he  was  in 
demand  as  a  virtuoso.  Better  still,  in  July,  1781,  the  managers  of 
the  German  Opera — Josef  II's  pet  musical  project — handed  him  a 
libretto  to  set.  With  his  domestic  future  so  unsettled,  Mozart  was 
not  prepared  to  work  unremittingly  on  Die  Entfuhrung  aus  dem 
Serail,  however  dear  to  his  heart.  The  routine  trivia  of  a  busy 
musician's  life,  including  an  arduous  contest  with  the  pianist  Muzio 
Clementi  for  the  amusement  of  the  court,  he  could  take  in  his 
stride,  but  quite  as  unsettling  as  Constanze' s  limited  charms  was 

*  Constanze's  guardian  made  Mozart  sign  a  promise  to  marry  her  within  three 
years  or  give  her  a  life  annuity.  To  Constanze5  s  credit,  be  it  said  that  as  soon  as  the 
guardian  was  out  of  sight  she  tore  up  the  contract. 


his  meeting  with  Haydn,  which  was  followed  by  a  more  or  less 
complete  reorientation  of  his  art.  The  first  act  of  the  opera  went 
fast,  but  the  entire  score  was  not  finished  for  almost  a  year,  some  of 
the  delay  being  due  to  the  clumsiness  and  absurdities  of  the  pseudo- 
Oriental  libretto.  The  musical  cliques,  which  in  Vienna  prolifer- 
ated like  bacteria,  were  banded  against  him,  and  were  determined 
that  Die  Entfuhrung  should  not  be  produced.  Eventually,  Josef  II 
had  to  intervene,  and  command  its  performance.  The  night  of  the 
premiere,  July  16,  1782,  was  an  unmarred  triumph  for  Mozart:  the 
house  was  packed,  the  court  was  present,  and  number  after  num- 
ber was  encored.  During  the  rest  of  the  season,  the  management 
coined  money  in  countless  repetitions  of  the  new  opera. 

Scarcely  three  weeks  after  the  first  performance,  with  the  praise 
of  Vienna  ringing  in  his  ears,  Mozart  led  Constanze  to  the  altar 
at  St.  Stephen's. 

The  opera  that  had  made  the  future  seem  brighter  to  Mozart 
has  not  worn  well.  Die  Entfuhrung  belongs  to  that  suspicious  group 
of  works  that  are  called  great  merely,  it  seems,  because  they  are  by 
great  composers.  Furthermore,  its  musical  quality  has  been  exag- 
gerated because  of  its  importance  as  the  first  complete  Singspiel 
by  a  major  dramatic  composer.  There  are  fine  things  in  the  opera 
—the  trouble  is  that  they  are  in  all  sorts  of  styles.  In  the  entire 
piece,  Mozart,  with  his  keen  nose  for  drama,  developed  only  one 
completely  convincing  character — the  richly  farcical  Osmin.  Yet 
the  whole  business  proceeds  in  high  good  spirits,  which  for  the 
time  being  reconcile  us  to  a  succession  of  airs  in  every  style  from 
Neapolitan  to  Viennese  Turkish.  The  bits  from  Die  Entfuhrung  that 
recitalists  resuscitate  are  almost  as  lovely  as  anything  in  Mozart, 
but  hearing  them  out  of  their  context  leads  one  to  expect  the 
opera  as  a  whole  to  be  more  satisfying  than  it  is. 

The  success  of  Die  Entfuhrung  had  given  Mozart  courage  to  marry 
Constanze,  but  when  they  got  home  from  St.  Stephen's  they  found 
the  cupboard  bare.  It  was,  except  for  short  periods,  to  remain  that 
way  for  the  rest  of  Mozart's  life.  He  was  careless  and  extravagant; 
Constanze,  though  too  unimaginative  to  be  a  spendthrift,  was  an 
even  worse  manager  than  he.  Even  at  the  height  of  his  fame  (which 
was  far  more  considerable  than  many  sentimentalists  have  been 
willing  to  admit),  Mozart  never  made  money  in  large  sums.  When, 
shortly  after  a  special  performance  of  Die  Entfuhrung  arranged  by 


the  managers  of  the  German  Opera  at  Gluck's  request.,  the  aged 
autocrat  of  'the  music  drama  asked  the  Mozarts  to  his  splendid 
mansion  in  the  suburbs  of  Vienna,  the  disparity  of  their  worldly 
positions  must  have  been  painfully  apparent.  Their  own  home  was 
in  the  shabbiest  quarter  of  the  city,  in  a  narrow,  ill-smelling  lane. 

The  next  two  years  saw  Mozart  taking  what  advantage  he  could 
of  his  growing  fame.  Reading  the  roster  of  the  phenomenal  num- 
ber of  his  engagements  to  play  in  the  homes  of  the  highest  Vien- 
nese society,  it  is  something  of  a  mystery  that  he  did  not  accumu- 
late wealth.  For  instance,  in  five  weeks  of  1784,  he  played  nine 
times  at  the  magnificent  Count  Janos  Esterhazy's,  and  the  same 
year  Haydn  invited  him  to  appear  several  times  at  Prince  Miklds 
Esterhazy's  Vienna  house.  Furthermore,  besides  taking  part  in 
concerts  of  other  artists,  including  those  of  his  increasingly  famous 
sister-in-law,  Aloysia  Lange,  Mozart  began  to  give  subscription 
concerts  of  his  own,  which  were  attended  by  the  nobility  and  the 
diplomatic  corps  en  masse.  The  Emperor,  who  was  frequently 
present,  always  applauded  loudly  and  shouted  bravo.  As  a  host, 
Mozart  provided  musical  fare  of  indescribable  richness.  No  pro- 
gram was  complete  without  at  least  one  symphony,  one  or  two 
piano  concertos,  a  divertimento,  and  several  small  pieces,  all  topped 
off  with  an  improvised  fantasia.  This  last  always  brought  down  the 

Some  slight  conception  of  Mozart's  ability  as  a  keyboard  artist 
may  be  extracted  from  the  ecstatic  eulogy  of  an  early  biographer: 
"If  I  might  have  the  fulfillment  of  one  wish  on  earth,  it  would  be 
to  hear  Mozart  improvise  once  more  on  the  piano.  .  .  ."  The 
child  clavier  prodigy  had  perfectly  adapted  his  maturing  tech- 
nique to  the  demands  of  the  early  piano,  which,  however,  cannot 
be  compared  in  sonority,  volume,  or  flexibility  to  the  modern 
concert  grand. 

The  best  of  Mozart's  music  for  the  piano  alone,  with  the  excep- 
tion of  the  late  Fantasia  in  C  minor  (K.  475),*  was  written  before 

*  Bernard  Shaw's  adventures  with  this  Fantasia  in  the  London  of  the  nineties  are 
worth  quoting  in  full:  "Do  you  know  that  noble  fantasia  in  G  minor,  in  which 
Mozart  shewed  what  Beethoven  was  to  do  with  the  pianoforte  sonata,  just  as  in  Das 
Veilchen  he  shewed  what  Schubert  was  to  do  with  the  song?  Imagine  my  feelings 
when  Madame  Backer  Grondahl,  instead  of  playing  th:s  fantasia  (which  she  would 
have  done  beautifully),  set  Madame  Haas  to  play  it,  and  then  sat  down  beside  her 
and  struck  up  'an  original  part  for  a  second  piano,'  in  which  every  interpolation  was 
an  impertinence  and  every  addition  a  blemish.  Shocked  and  pained  as  every  one 

142  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

1779,  and  therefore  does  not  belong  to  the  high  noon  of  his  genius. 
The  sonatas  are,  with  several  notable  exceptions,  rather  light- 
weight works,  showing  a  complete  command  of  the  technical  re- 
sources of  the  time.  Some  of  them,  indeed,  show  little  else,  and  are 
full  of  empty  variational  passagework.  The  best,  however,  are 
among  the  permanent  delights  of  music.  The  most  familiar  is  prob- 
ably that  in  A  major  (K.  331),  consisting  of  a  gracious  theme  and 
variations,  a  decorous  but  almost  romantic  minuet,  and  the  now 
hackneyed  Rondo  alia  Turca,  which  needs  the  perfect  sympathy 
and  flawless  touch  of  a  master  to  rescue  it  from  banality.  But  the 
Sonata  in  A  minor  (K.  310)  has  the  most  body,  and  is  probably 
the  favorite  of  those  whose  conception  of  the  sonata  is  based  on 
the  massive  structures  of  Beethoven.  It  pulses  with  drama,  and  is 
painted  with  darker  colors  than  are  common  in  the  Mozartian 

The  piano  concertos,  over  twenty  in  number,  are  more  reward- 
ing to  the  listener  than  the  sonatas,  and  are  incomparably  more 
important  historically.  While  no  one  man  can  accurately  be  re- 
ferred to  as  the  inventor  of  a  musical  form,  Mozart  did  such  a 
perfect  job  of  fusing  and  adapting  certain  elements  he  found  at 
hand  that  the  classical  concerto  for  piano  and  orchestra  may  be 
regarded  as  his  achievement.  In  the  sonatas,  on  the  other  hand, 
Mozart  merely  worked  out  the  ideas  of  Karl  Philipp  Emanuel 
Bach  and  Haydn  in  his  own  way.  On  the  piano  concertos,  which 
were  staples  of  his  musical  soirees,  he  lavished  his  most  exquisite 
care  and  unstinted  inventiveness.*  The  best  of  them  belong  to  the 
years  1784-86,  though  he  had  all  but  perfected  the  form  by  his 
twentieth  year.  Picking  first-magnitude  stars  from  a  galaxy  is  a 

who  knew  and  loved  the  fantasia  must  have  been,  there  was  a  certain  grim  ironic 
interest  in  the  fact  that  the  man  who  has  had  the  unspeakable  presumption  to  offer 
us  his  improvements  on  Mozart  is  the  infinitesimal  Grieg.  The  world  reproaches 
Mozart  for  his  inspired  variations  on  Handel's  'The  people  that  walked  in  dark- 
ness.' I  do  not  know  what  the  world  will  now  say  to  Grieg;  but  if  ever  he  plays  that 
'original  second  part*  himself  to  an  audience  equipped  with  adequate  musical  cul- 
ture, I  sincerely  advise  him  to  ascertain  beforehand  that  no  brickbats  or  other  loose 
and  suitably  heavy  articles  have  been  left  carelessly  about  the  room." 

— London  Music  in  1888—89  as  Heard  by  Corno  di  Bassetto 

*  The  piano  parts  of  the  concertos  are  often  notoriously  bare  in  outline.  When 
Mozart  played  a  piano  concerto  in  public — he  was  the  first  person  ever  to  do  so — he 
enriched  the  solo  part  with  ornament  and  other  improvisation.  It  was  not  until  Bee- 
thoven's time  that  it  was  thought  necessary  to  set  down  all  the  notes  to  be  played — 
and  even  he  once  sent  the  manuscript  of  his  G  minor  Concerto  to  the  publisher  with 
the  piano  part  missing.  He  had  forgotten  to  write  it  down ! 

MOZART  143 

fascinating  game  that  anyone  can  play,  and  among  the  Mozart 
piano  concertos  there  are  enough  masterpieces  to  go  around.  Some 
stargazers  favor  the  A  major  (K.  414),  small  but  perfect  in  design, 
and  full  of  youthful  charm.  The  B  flat  major  (K.  450)  is  a  Haydn 
joke  in  the  first  movement,  typically  Mozartian  variations  in  the 
second,  and  a  premonition  of  Schumann  (in  cap  and  bells,  of  all 
things!)  in  the  third.  The  A  major  (K.  488)  and  the  C  minor  (K. 
491)  were  written  during  March,  1786,  while  Mozart  was  finishing 
Le  Nozze  di  Figaro.  The  slow  movement  of  the  former  is  among  the 
most  touching  and  beautiful  music  ever  written,  diffusing  the 
serene  melancholy  of  "magic  casements,  opening  on  the  foam  of 
perilous  seas,  in  faery  lands  forlorn."  In  the  C  minor,  this  melan- 
choly has  deepened  into  gloom.  Sir  Donald  Tovey  calls  the  last 
movement  of  this  Concerto  "sublime,"  and  it  is  known  that 
Beethoven  was  profoundly  affected  by  it.  Anyone  who  can  listen  to 
this  C  minor  Concerto,  and  still  say  that  Mozart  is  heartless, 
simply  cannot  hear. 

What  Mozart,  pouring  out  incredible  musical  riches,  was  hoping 
for  was  not  more  opportunity  for  playing  in  the  houses  of  the  great. 
He  wanted  the  court  appointment  he  knew  he  deserved.  In  1783, 
tired  of  waiting,  he  began  to  toy  with  the  idea  of  trying  his  luck  in 
Paris  and  London,  but  his  father,  who  sat  sulking  in  Salzburg, 
fulminated  bitterly  against  this  proposed  gypsying.  Besides,  in 
June  Constanze  gave  birth  to  their  first  child,  a  boy.  At  this  point, 
Mozart  thought  it  high  time  for  his  father  and  Nannerl  to  meet  his 
wife,  and  so  the  very  next  month  he  and  Constanze  rushed  off  to 
Salzburg,  leaving  the  luckless  infant  in  the  care  of  a  wet  nurse.  It 
died  while  they  were  away.*  The  Salzburg  visit  was  a  failure,  and 
after  three  months  of  cool  amenities,  during  which  Mozart  toiled 
halfheartedly  at  two  never  completed  operas,  they  started  for 
home.  At  Linz,  they  found  old  Count  Thun,  whose  daughter-in- 
law  was  one  of  Mozart's  pupils,  preparing  for  a  fete.  He  asked 
Mozart  to  write  a  symphony  for  the  occasion,  and  with  the  alacrity 
and  sang-froid  of  a  conjuror  pulling  a  rabbit  out  of  a  hat,  he  pro- 
duced the  great  C  major  ("Linz")  Symphony  (K.  425). 

By  this  time — November,  1783 — Mozart  had  written  almost 
forty  symphonies.  Most  of  these  are  of  small  account,  and  show, 

*  In  all,  this  harum-scarum  couple  had  seven  children.  It  is  little  wonder  that  only 
two  survived. 

144  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

for  Mozart,  a  certain  slowness  in  realizing  the  full  possibilities  of 
the  symphonic  form.  Except  for  the  witty  but  superficial  "Paris" 
Symphony  (K.  297),  and  one  or  two  others,  his  most  characteristic 
symphonies  were  composed  after  his  meeting  with  Haydn  in  1781. 
The  effect  of  this  relationship  and  of  a  closer  knowledge  of  Haydn's 
symphonies  was,  curiously  enough,  to  make  Mozart  more  than 
ever  himself.  The  first  fruit  of  this  stimulus  was  a  second  serenade 
written  for  the  Haffner  family,  and  later  recast  in  the  form  of  a 
symphony.  The  "Haffner,"  in  D  major  (K.  385),  is  miniature  in 
size — and  perfect  from  beginning  to  end.  The  first  movement  is 
unique  in  Mozart  for  having  only  one  theme,  but  he  rings  so  many 
changes  on  this  that  the  effect  is  one  of  infinite  variety.  The 
minuet  is  the  formal  grace  of  the  rococo  in  essence;  it  enfolds  a 
middle  section  of  hushed  ecstasy  that  is  one  of  the  tenderest 
moments  in  music.  The  final  rondo,  which  Mozart  wanted  to  be 
played  "as  fast  as  possible,"  sounds  in  part  like  an  Ariel's  adapta- 
tion of  Three  Blind  Mice,  and  brings  the  "Haffner"  to  a  close  in  a 
rush  of  pell-mell  good  spirits.  The  "Linz,"  though  not  so  flawless, 
shows  Mozart  developing.  Here,  for  the  first  time,  he  tries  a  slow 
introduction — an  effect  he  was  to  turn  into  sheer  poetry  in  the  E 
flat  Symphony  (K.  543) .  The  almost  exotic  orchestral  color,  which 
might  be  misinterpreted  as  a  deliberate  experiment,  is  really  acci- 
dental— Count  Thun  had  trumpeters  and  drummers  in  his  band, 
but  no  flautists  or  clarinetists.  The  "Linz,"  unfortunately,  is  now- 
adays much  neglected:  one  of  the  foremost  living  musicologists  had 
to  confess  in  1935  that  he  had  heard  it  but  once. 

After  bidding  farewell  to  Count  Thun,  Mozart  returned  to 
Vienna,  and  for  more  than  a  year  nothing  broke  the  monotonous 
round  of  his  bread-and-butter  existence.  To  compensate  for  the 
staleness  of  life,  and  to  satisfy  his  yearning  for  friendship,  he  be- 
came more  and  more  interested  in  the  activities  of  a  Masonic  lodge 
he  had  joined  some  years  before.  Freemasonry  in  those  days  was 
not  the  stodgy,  perfunctory  institution  it  has  become — instead  of 
being  a  haven  for  backslappers,  it  was  a  refuge  for  liberal  thinkers 
and  artists,  Catholic  as  well  as  Protestant.  Mozart  took  Free- 
masonry very  seriously.  He  was  a  militant  proselytizer  for  the 
order,  and  even  succeeded  in  converting  his  bigoted  father  to  its 
tenets.  As  the  pious  Haydn  also  became  a  Mason  early  in  1785,  it 
is  possible  that  Mozart  had  won  him  over,  too.  Unfortunately,  the 


music  Mozart  composed  for  his  lodge  remains  buried  in  Kochel, 
and  so  it  is  impossible  to  comment  on  it.  A  funeral  march  is  said  to 
be  particularly  fine,  but  the  only  musical  result  we  can  judge  is  Die 
£auberfldte,  which  has  a  Masonic  libretto. 

In  February,  1785,  Leopold  Mozart  visited  Wolfgang  and  Con- 
stanze,  and  stayed  ten  weeks.  Sixty-six  years  had  somewhat  mel- 
lowed his  irascible  and  tyrannical  nature,  and  though  he  never 
completely  forgave  the  marriage,  his  son  and  daughter-in-law 
found  themselves  on  easier  terms  with  him.  He  was  much  im- 
pressed by  their  affluence  —  extremely  temporary,  unhappily  —  and 
delighted  in  watching  the  enthusiastic  response  to  Wolfgang's 
musical  prowess.  His  cup  of  gratification  overflowed  the  night  that 
the  great  Haydn  (with  two  barons  in  attendance)  called  on  the 
Mozarts  in  state.  Later  in  the  evening,  Ditters  von  Dittersdorf  and 
Wanhal  dropped  in,  and  then  four  of  the  most  eminent  musicians 
alive  sat  down  to  play  Mozart's  three  new  quartets.  Before  leaving^ 
Haydn  drew  the  elder  Mozart  aside,  and  said  solemnly  to  him,  "I 
declare  to  you  before  God,  and  as  an  honest  man,  that  your  son  is 
the  greatest  composer  I  know,  either  personally  or  by  name." 
Haydn  could  justly  take  pride  in  the  quartets  they  had  just  played, 
for  they  were  children  of  his  own  quartets.  No  one  realized  his  in- 
debtedness more  than  Mozart  himself,  for  in  dedicating  these  and 
three  other  quartets  to  Haydn,  he  said,  "From  Haydn  I  first 
learned  how  to  compose  a  quartet." 

This  memorable  evening  was  the  fulfillment  of  Leopold  Mozart's 
life,  which,  according  to  his  lights,  he  had  devoted  to  his  children. 
After  returning  to  Salzburg,  he  bqgan  to  fail  in  health,  and  died  in 
May,  1787^  without  having  seen  his  son  again. 

Those  who  pause  in  awe  before  the  vastness  of  the  Kochel 
catalogue,  with  its  hundreds  of  listings,  will  find  the  string  quartets 
a  comparatively  -easy  problem.  The  key  is  that  they  are  divided 
into  two  groups  —  those  written  between  1770  and  1773,  and 
those  written  in  1782  and  after.  Unless  you  are  a  professional 
musicologist,  you  may  forget  the  first  group  —  they  are  not  played 
often  because  they  contain  little  but  promise,  which  is  an  extremely 
flat  diet  for  a  musical  -evening.  That  Mozart  stopped  composing 
quartets  for  nine  years  better  to  ponder  the  true  esthetics  of  the 
form  is  most  unlikely,  What  happened  was,  as  we  know,  that  he 
met  Haydn  in  1  781,  and  during  the  next  four  years  wrote  the  set  of 

146  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

six  quartets  dedicated  to  him.  Nowhere,  not  even  in  the  sym- 
phonies, is  Haydn's  beneficial  effect  on  Mozart  so  apparent.  In- 
deed, in  the  first  of  the  "Haydn"  Quartets — the  G  major  (K.  387) 
— the  influence  forces  Mozart's  own  idiom  into  the  background. 
Coming  upon  this  quartet  unexpectedly  would  constitute  a  knotty 
problem  in  attribution.  Incidentally,  this  does  not  mean  that  it 
could  be  mistaken  for  anything  except  the  best  Haydn.  But  the 
second  of  the  set,  the  D  minor  (K.  421),  is  pure  Mozart,  though  in 
an  unusually  tragic,  almost  Beethovian,  mood.  It  is  classical  music 
with  a  future — and  that  future  is  romanticism,  with  its  glories  and 
mistakes.  The  sixth  of  the  "Haydn"  set,  the  C  major  (K.  465), 
raised  a  tempest  in  the  critical  teapot  that  has  not  subsided  yet. 
The  introduction  contains  a  discord.  The  effect  on  all  strata  of 
society  was  inconceivable:  a  prince  tore  up  the  parts,  a  printer  sent 
them  back  with  the  sharp  remark  that  they  contained  "obvious 
misprints,"  and  the  professional  critics  met  in  solemn  conclave, 
and  pronounced  Mozart  a  barbarian.  Only  Haydn  had  the  sense 
to  say,  "If  Mozart  wrote  thus,  he  must  have  done  so  with  good 
reason."  We  who  have  eaten  of  the  apples  of  modern  discord  can 
listen  to  the  C  major  Quartet  untroubled  by  anything  except  its 

Perhaps  the  critical  barrage  left  Mozart  a  sadder  man.  At  any 
rate,  he  never  again  ran  foul  of  the  pundits  in  the  same  overt  way. 
His  four  remaining  string  quartets  are  well  mannered  and  de- 
tached, genius  being  lavished  on  technical  polish  rather  than  on 
deep  expression.  The  last  three,  indeed,  are  courtly  and  beautifully 
surfaced — and  correctly  so.  They  were  composed  to  order  for 
Friedrich  Wilhelm  II  of  Prussia,  who  was  a  cello  virtuoso  in  a 
small  way,  which  explains  why  so  accomplished  a  craftsman  as 
Mozart  allowed  the  cello  part  occasionally  to  upset  the  balance  of 
the  ensemble.  The  "King  of  Prussia"  set  must  yield  on  all  counts 
to  the  "Haydn":  in  these  latter,  Mozart  showed  an  understanding 
of  the  separate  personalities  of  the  four  strings  that  no  other  com- 
poser— not  even  Beethoven — has  ever  surpassed.  Into  the  "Haydn" 
Quartets  he  poured  a  wealth  of  musical  ideas  not  inferior  in  kind  to 
those  with  which  he  built  his  great  symphonies  and  concertos. 

When,  late  in  1785,  Mozart  turned  again  to  writing  for  the  stage, 
he  was  vibrant  with  a  newly  perfected  command  of  contrapuntal 
idiom.  Der  Schauspieldirektor,  a  humorless  parody  of  theatrical  life, 

MOZART  147 

is  almost  too  trivial  to  justify  the  loving  care  Mozart  gave  it.  Evi- 
dently he  was  so  pleased  to  be  writing  in  the  theater  again  that 
he  used  this  dull  story  as  a  peg  on  which  to  hang  numbers  worthy 
of  a  better  idea.  Besides,  the  Emperor  had  sent  him  the  libretto, 
and  he  may  have  been  playing  politics,  particularly  as  his  formi- 
dable rival  Salieri  was  to  give  an  opera  of  his  own  at  the  same  court 
fete.  The  overture  and  concluding  quartet  of  Der  Schauspieldirektor 
have  a  richer  contrapuntal  fabric  than  Mozart  had  previously  used 
in  opera,  and  each  of  the  actors  is  assigned  music  that  cleverly 
lights  up  his  character.  But  even  with  these  advantages,  the  tiny 
opera  has  failed  to  survive  except  in  versions  (themselves  by  no 
means  popular)  that  Mozart  would  not  recognize. 

Der  Schauspieldirektor  was  but  an  interruption  in  the  creation 
of  one  of  Mozart's  masterpieces,  Le  Nozze  di  Figaro.  Not  long  after 
his  father's  return  to  Salzburg,  he  had  been  approached  by  Lorenzo 
da  Ponte  with  a  suggestion  that  he  do  the  music  for  Beaumarchais* 
Le  Manage  de  Figaro,  one  of  the  twin  peaks  of  French  bouffe  drama. 
There  were  all  sorts  of  objections  to  this  scheme,  but  they  were 
not  of  the  kind  to  stop  this  Jewish-born  priest,  whose  rise  from  the 
most  humble  origins  to  the  post  of  Latin  secretary  and  theater  poet 
to  Josef  II  had  given  him  confidence  in  his  star.  The  Emperor  had 
forbidden  performances  of  Beaumarchais'  play  because  of  its 
radical  political  implications,  and  it  was  thought  that  this  ban 
would  be  extended  to  an  opera  based  on  it.  Also,  Mozart  had 
reason  to  fear  that  Salieri  and  his  other  rivals  would  block  the 
staging  of  any  new  opera  from  his  pen.  Da  Ponte,  bold  in  his  role 
as  Metastasio's  admitted  successor,  was  equal  to  his  task:  he  won 
over  the  Emperor  by  sterilizing  the  play  politically,  and  stymied 
Mozart's  rivals.  Incidentally,  he  produced  the  best  libretto  that 
ever  came  Mozart's  way.  The  music  itself  was  finished  in  April, 
1786,  having  been  written  piecemeal  amid  a  welter  of  bread-and- 
butter  projects,  among  them  three  magnificent  piano  concertos. 
Le  Nozze  di  Figaro  was  produced  on  May  i,  and  was  greeted  with 
an  ovation  that  has  rarely  been  surpassed  in  the  annals  of  opera. 
Practically  every  number  was  encored,  and  cries  of  "Viva,  viva, 
grande  Mozart!"  came  from  all  parts  of  the  house. 

While  there  may  be  four  opinions  as  to  which  is  the  best  of 
Mozart's  operas,  there  can  be  no  doubt  that  Figaro  teems  with 
more  memorable  music  than  any  of  the  others — indeed,  with  more 

148  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

than  almost  any  other  opera  ever  written.  From  beginning  to  end, 
the  succession  of  dazzling  numbers  is  bewildering.  To  hear  the 
opera  for  the  first  time  is  to  lose  much  of  its  dramatic  unity:  it 
sounds  too  much  like  a  mere  anthology  of  celebrated  melodies.  It 
takes  long  familiarity  with  Figaro  to  realize  fully  with  what  con- 
summate art  Mozart  has  combined  musical  beauty  and  dramatic 
truth.  This  breathless  pageant  of  beauty  begins  with  the  overture 
(now  almost  too  familiar) ,  which,  with  its  matchless  delicacy,  live- 
liness, and  wit,  sets  the  atmosphere  and  pace  of  what  is  to  follow. 
And  so  it  proceeds,  through  Figaro's  superb  martial  aria  in  the 
first  act,  the  Contessa's  and  Gherubino's  lovely  music  in  the 
second,  the  peerless  lament  of  the  Contessa  in  Act  III,  and  finally 
to  Susanna's  tender  love  song  in  the  last  act.  To  choose  a  favorite 
among  these  is  a  task — the  fact  that  so  many  people  know  "Voi  che 
sapete"  better  than  anything  else  in  Figaro  is  due  to  its  excessive 

The  success  of  this  ribald  opera  did  not  improve  Mozart's  finan- 
cial position.  He  had  received  a  lump  sum  for  its  composition,  and 
this  he  ran  through  as  fast  as  possible.  He  was  living  way  beyond 
his  means,  dressing  himself  and  his  family  in  the  finest  style,  and 
occupying  part  of  a  mansion  in  a  good  quarter  of  Vienna.  His 
rather  hectic  private  life  was  likewise  a  drain  on  his  resources, 
physical  as  well  as  financial.  About  this  time,  he  began  a  series  of 
sordid  little  affairs  with  sundry  women  which  add  a  note  of  am- 
biguity to  his  otherwise  constant  affection  for  Constanze.  And  she, 
it  must  be  admitted,  was  not  like  Caesar's  wife,  and  often  had  to 
be  reproved  for  giving  gossips  something  to  talk  about. 

Mozart's  extravagant  scale  of  living  and  his  fitful  indulgences  re- 
quired some  sort  of  stable  income  that  Vienna  seemed  unwilling  to 
provide.  After  Figaro,  the  Emperor  was  as  usual  vociferous  in  his 
praise — but  no  official  post  was  forthcoming.  In  despair,  Mozart 
toyed  once  more  with  a  fantastic  idea  of  seeking  his  fortune  in 
England,  and  it  seems  that  only  a  warm  invitation  to  see  for  him- 
self how  well  Figaro  was  faring  in  Prague  kept  him  from,  this  ven- 
ture. He  accepted  with  alacrity  >  and  soon  he  and  Constanze,  with 
the  lordly  Thun  mansion  as  their  own,  were  receiving  a  hearty 
welcome  from  highborn  Praguers.  Their  reception,  in  fact,  was  so 
gratifying  that  it  must  have  crossed  Mozart's  mind  that  here  he 
might  be  both  understood  and  recompensed  according  to  his 
deserts.  His  presence  at  a  performance  of  Figaro  almost  started  a 

MOZART  149 

riot,  and  when  he  himself  conducted  it  some  days  later  the  plaudits 
of  the  audience  sounded  like  one  vast  claque.  Equally  successful 
were  his  two  concerts,  at  the  first  of  which  he  conducted  a  splendid 
new  symphony,  the  D  major,  or  "Prague35  (K.  504),  whose  propor- 
tions suggest  a  transition  from  the  smaller  perfections  of  the  "Haff- 
ner"  and  "Linz35  to  the  more  epic  structures  of  the  last  three  sym- 
phonies. Mozart  was  now  the  darling  of  Prague  society — a  state  of 
affairs  that  must  have  recalled  to  him  the  triumphs  of  his  child- 
hood. He  no  sooner  expressed  a  wish  to  write  an  opera  for  so  sym- 
pathetic a  public  than  the  delighted  impresario  who  had  im- 
ported Figaro  handed  him  a  contract.  He  had  to  leave  Prague 
without  the  elusive  appointment,  but  for  once  his  pockets  were 

Vienna,  after  the  homage  of  Prague,  was  cold  indeed,  and 
Mozart  plunged  feverishly  into  the  business  of  the  new  opera.  Da 
Ponte  suggested  Don  Juan  as  a  subject,  and  (doubtless  to  get  the 
proper  atmosphere)  sat  down  with  a  bottle  of  Tokay  on  one  hand 
and  a  pretty  girl  on  the  other.  At  one  stage  of  the  writing,  when 
the  crosscurrents  of  passion  and  revenge  became  one  too  many  for 
him,  Da  Ponte  called  in  Casanova  for  expert  advice.  Mozart, 
while  tossing  off  the  best  of  his  string  quintets  and  the  luscious 
Sine  Heine  Nachtmusik,  began  to  rear  the  superb  structure  of  Don 
Giovanni.  In  the  midst  of  all  this,  he  received  a  visitor  who  must 
have  seemed  as  strange  to  him  as  the  Stone  Guest  did  to  Don  Juan. 
This  unappetizing  young  fellow,  who  looked  little  more  elegant 
than  a  Flemish  lout,  sat  down  at  the  piano,  and  improvised  with 
such  originality  that  Mozart  said  solemnly  to  some  other  guests, 
"Keep  your  eyes  on  him.  Some  day  he  will  give  the  world  some- 
thing to  talk:  about."  He  was  right:  his  caller  was  Ludwig  van 

In  September,  1787,  the  Mozarts  returned  to  Prague  for  two 
more  gala  months.  The  score  of  Don  Giovanni  was  still  unfinished, 
partly  because  Mozart  had  been  overworked,  and  partly  because 
he  had  to  consult  his  singers  before  putting  the  final  touches  on 
their  arias.  The  overture  was  the  last  number  composed,  and  the 
orchestra  had  to  read  it  at  sight  at  the  final  rehearsal.*  The  pre- 

*  Constanze,  years  later,  told  her  second  husband  that  Mozart  had  composed  the 
overture  the  night  before  the  final  rehearsal.  She  said  that  he  was  so  tired  that  she 
had  to  freshen  him  with  numerous  glasses  of  punch  and  the  reading  of  fairy  tales. 

150  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

miere,  on  October  29,  surpassed  the  triumphs  of  Figaro,  which  was 
still  a  prime  favorite  in  Prague.  Mozart's  appearance  in  the  or- 
chestra was  announced  by  a  trumpet  fanfare  that  might  have 
greeted  an  imperial  personage.  The  performers,  especially  the 
singers,  seemed  to  be  aware  that  they  were  making  history,  and 
made  the  presentation  electric  with  their  enthusiasm. 

Don  Giovanni  has  drawn  to  it  a  host  of  admirers  who  think  it 
the  greatest  opera  ever  written,  and  they  are  just  as  vociferous  as 
those  who  noisily  claim  this  honor  for  Tristan  und  Isolde  or  Pelttas  et 
Melisande.  Certainly,  it  is  a  very  exciting  opera,  with  its  many 
boldly  delineated  characters,  the  rush  of  events  toward  inevitable 
destruction,  the  shifting  from  comedy  to  tragedy  with  the  protean 
rhythm  of  life  itself,  and  the  bizarrerie  of  the  ghoulish  finale.  Don 
Giovanni  was  new  in  1787 — it  is  still  new.  The  Don  is  the  first  of  the 
countless  Byronic  heroes  who  were  to  crowd  the  operatic  stage 
during  the  nineteenth  century,  and  his  excesses  and  ruin  give  us  a 
foretaste  of  what  Weber  and  Meyerbeer  will  do  with  their  hellish 
librettos.  All  this  romantic  folderol  is  expressed  in  Mozart's 
highly  classical  idiom,  with  a  minimum  of  fustian — until  the 
finale,  when  the  Commendatore's  marble  statue  accepts  the  Don's 
invitation  to  dinner — with  dire  results.  Here  we  are  conscious  that 
the  nineteenth  century  is  only  thirteen  years  away,  and  the  Satanic 
fires  that  consume  the  wicked  hero's  palace  lick  at  the  very  struc- 
ture of  classicism  itself. 

But  those  who  hear  this  romantic  note  with  foreboding  have 
been  amply  compensated  in  the  earlier  scenes.  It  must  be  admitted 
that  the  overture  is  not  Mozart  at  his  best,  and  scarcely  prepares 
us  for  the  marvels  that  are  to  follow.  These  begin  with  Leporello's 
famous  catalogue  of  his  master's  infidelities,  a  masterpiece  ofbujfa 
and  bravura.  Ten  or  fifteen  minutes  later,  we  hear  "La  ci  darem 
la  mano"  a  duet  of  haunting,  tender  beauty.*  Almost  with  the  pro- 
fusion of  Figaro ,  brilliant  arias  and  dramatic  concerted  numbers 
follow.  "//  mio  tesoro"  with  its  tracery  of  florid  melody,  lays  claim 
to  being  the  most  beautiful  aria  in  the  tenor  repertoire.  But  the 

*  Re  the  connection  of  Don  Giovanni  with  the  romantic  movement,  it  is  worth  not- 
ing that  the  young  Chopin  was  so  enchanted  with  "La  ci  darem"  that  he  based  a  set 
of  variations  for  piano  and  orchestra  (Opus  2)  on  it.  And  it  was  this  work,  in  turn, 
that  fired  Schumann  to  write  his  first  published  musical  essay,  with  the  celebrated 
tag  line,  "Hats  off,  gentlemen,  a  genius !"  This  essay  set  off  the  romantic  revolt  in 
music  criticism. 

MOZART  151 

most  celebrated  music  from  Don  Giovanni  is  not  vocal — it  is  the 
Instrumental  minuet  that  closes  the  first  act.  The  boy  Mendelssohn 
gravely  informed  the  venerable  Goethe  that  this  minuet  was  the 
"most  beautiful  music  in  the  world.5'  And  though  we  have  heard  it 
played  on  everything  from  a  pipe  organ  to  a  hand  organ,  it  would 
not  be  difficult  to  agree  with  him. 

After  *tht  premiere  of  Don  Giovanni,  the  Mozarts  dallied  among  the 
appreciative  Praguers,  and  did  not  return  to  Vienna  until  Novem- 
ber 12.  Three  days  later,  Gluck  died,  and  a  month  later,  Josef 
II  appointed  Mozart  his  new  chamber  composer.  The  post  carried 
considerable  prestige,  but  Mozart  described  the  emolument  as  "too 
much  for  what  I  do,  and  too  little  for  what  I  could  do."  Gluck  had 
received  two  thousand  gulden  a  year;  the  emperor  gave  Mozart 
eight  hundred,  and  this  paltry  sum  was,  with  the  exception  of  a 
tiny  stipend  from  St.  Stephen's  that  he  began  to  receive  in  1791, 
the  only  assured  income  he  enjoyed.  For  a  time  he  squandered  his 
genius  turning  out  trivial  music  for  court  functions — charming 
dances  that  foreshadow  Johann  Strauss.  Altogether,  Mozart  was 
as  near  to  being  in  a  rut  as  he  ever  was  in  all  his  life.  His  feeling  of 
neglect  was  intensified  by  the  cool  reception  the  Viennese  ac- 
corded Don  Giovanni.  Also,  his  chronic  poverty  had  become  acute, 
and  he  now  began  that  series  of  begging  letters  to  a  fellow  Mason 
which  is  matched  in  the  annals  of  music  only  by  the  more  flagrant 
specimens  from  Wagner's  pen.  His  improdigality  far  outstripped 
his  friend's  patient  generosity,  and  when  the  funds  came  they  were 
mere  stopgaps. 

Despite  indications  to  the  contrary,  Mozart  was  on  the  edge  of 
the  most  miraculously  fecund  period  of  his  life.  A  few  weeks  after 
the  chilling  Vienna  first  night  of  Don  Giovanni,  and  while  his  rival 
Salieri  was  crowding  him  off  the  boards  with  a  very  successful 
opera,  Mozart  began  a  symphony.  As  if  seized  by  a  divine  frenzy, 
he  worked  for  six  weeks,  and  when  he  laid  down  his  pen,  he  had 
completed  his  three  unquestioned  symphonic  masterpieces.  There 
are  two  ways  of  interpreting  this  phenomenon:  either  Mozart 
escaped  into  music  from  the  sordidness  of  his  life,  or  his  misery  put 
him  into  the  vatic  state.  Interpreted  either  way,  these  three  last 
symphonies  are  the  triple  crown  of  eighteenth-century  orchestral 
music.  In  deference  to  Beethoven  alone,  it  is  a  moot  question 
whether  they  have  ever  been  surpassed. 

152  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

The  Beethoven  symphonies  are  great  as  music,  but  part  of  their 
enormous  popularity  is  due  to  the  way  they  lend  themselves  to 
extramusical  interpretation.  It  is  easy  to  read  into  them  the 
course  of  Beethoven's; — or  mankind's — struggles.  Mozart's  sym- 
phonies do  not  lend  themselves  to  such  interpretation,  and  perhaps 
for  that  reason  they,  like  Haydn's,  have  suffered  in  the  estimation 
of  the  more  romantic  types  of  concertgoers.  They  must  be  ap- 
proached, and  heard,  as  music  alone.  Almost  all  attempts  to  read 
vast  human  or  superhuman  meanings  into  Mozart  show  a  violent 
lapse  of  mental  discipline.  They  spring  from  a  refusal,  or  inability, 
to  recognize  the  intrinsic  condition  of  music  as  an  art,  and  end,  in 
that  final  reduetio  ad  absurdum  of  musical  determinism,  by  erecting 
a  certain  preconception  of  Beethoven's  symphonies  as  the  only 
ideal.  It  was  this  school  of  misthinkers  who  thought  they  were 
praising  Brahms  by  calling  his  First  Symphony  "Beethoven's 
Tenth,"  and  who,  vaguely  realizing  that  Mozart  was  a  first-rate 
composer,  have  read  all  sorts  of  strange  things  into  his  music, 
particularly  the  last  three  symphonies.  But  their  wrestlings  with 
Mozart's  pellucid  material  produce  singularly  ludicrous  results. 
For  instance,  just  as  they  are  beginning  to  revel  in  the  connota- 
tions of  the  vast  and  mysterious  slow  introduction  to  the  E  fiat 
Symphony,  their  idea-freighted  haze  evaporates,  and  they  are  left 
with  nothing  but  music. 

Mozart  has  left  no  richer  or  more  varied  music  than  these  last 
three  symphonies.  Each  of  them  abounds  in  inspired  musical  ideas, 
and  each  has  a  distinct  musical  character  of  its  own,  truly  amazing 
in  view  of  the  circumstances  of  their  composition.  After  the  slow 
grandeur  of  the  introduction,  the  E  flat  (K.  543}  >  which  has  been 
called  the  locus  classicus  of  euphony,  turns  out  to  be  a  gay,  even 
impudent,  work,  with  but  few  notes  of  pensiveness.  The  instru- 
mental color  is  especially  rich  and  full  of  contrasts,  with  the  wind 
instruments  playing  an  unusually  important  role — the  E  flat  was 
the  first  major  work  in  which  clarinets  were  prominently  used.  The 
lovely  minuet,  which  is  almost  as  famous  as  that  from  Don  Giovanni, 
is  already  half  a  scherzo — Beethoven  was  to  bring  the  symphonic 
scherzo  to  adulthood  in  his  Second  Symphony,  and  perfect  it  in  his 
Third.  The  G  minor  (K.  550)  has  suffered  somewhat  from  the 
fact  that  the  first  movement  is  perhaps  the  most  sheerly  beautiful 
music  ever  written,  and  thus  the  last  three  movements  have  too 

MOZART  153 

often  been  shoved  into  the  background  of  the  memory  like  poor 
relations.  Actually,  though  they  lack  the  inexplicable  magic  of 
that  wonderful  allegro,  they  do  their  full  share  toward  making 
the  G  minor  a  perfectly  integrated  work  of  art.  This  symphony, 
which  Eric  Blom  has  called  "the  work  in  which  classicism  and 
romanticism  meet  and  where  once  and  for  all  we  see  a  perfect 
equilibrium  between  them,"  is  the  most  troubled  of  Mozart's 
symphonies.  The  pensive  note  is,  for  once,  tinged  with  a  deeper 
melancholy  and  weariness.  After  it,  the  G  major  (EL  551)  is  un- 
troubled, even  resurgent.  It  happens,  under  the  meaningless 
pseudonym  of  the  "Jupiter/3  to  be  the  best  known  of  the  sym- 
phonies. Also,  it  is  the  most  patterned  and  classical  of  the  three:  the 
entire  structure  is  based  on  a  series  of  inspired  musical  axioms  as 
neat  and  spare  as  propositions  from  Euclid.  The  celebrated  finale 
intricately  combines  five  of  these  themes  with  a  wizardry  that 
gives  point  to  the  comparison  of  this  movement  to  a  musical  chess 
game.  The  whole  symphony  is  a  curious,  but  completely  successful, 
combination  of  grandeur  and  high  spirits.  Altogether,  this  last  of 
Mozart's  symphonies  has  abounding  strength  and  youthfulness, 
and  is  informed  throughout  by  an  athleticism  that  is  rare  in  the 
rest  of  his  work. 

It  is  not  too  strange  that  these  three  symphonies,  the  last  of 
which  was  completed  early  in  August,  1788,  seemingly  exhausted 
Mozart's  best  creative  powers,  and  brought  on  a  fallow  period  that 
lasted  almost  a  whole  year.  Needless  to  say,  he  did  not  completely 
stop  composing:  a  multitude  of  dances  and  minor  chamber  works 
flowed  from  his  pen,  some  of  them  only  hack  work.  He  also  began 
to  "fill  out"  the  instrumental  accompaniments  of  certain  of 
Handel's  oratorios,  notably  Messiah,  on  a  commission  from  Baron 
van  Swieten,  one  of  Vienna's  most  celebrated  musical  amateurs, 
who  later  furnished  the  Hbretto  for  Haydn's  The  Creation.  Pos- 
sibly too  much  obloquy  has  been  attached  to  these  refurbishings  of 
Handel,  but  they  certainly  belong  to  a  very  dubious  category:  it  is 
still  a  question  whether  any  composer,  however  great,  should  try- 
to  "complete"  another  composer's  work. 

In  April,  1789,  Mozart  set  out  on  a  brief  tour  as  the  guest  of  his 
pupil.  Prince  Karl  Lichnowsky.  He  played  successfully  before  the 
Saxon  court  at  Dresden,,  and  at  Leipzig  performed  on  the  very 
organ  that  Johann  Sebastian  Bach  had  used .  Greatly  moved,  the 

154  MEN  OF 

Thomascantor,  himself  Bach's  pupil,  had  the  choir  perform  Singef 
dent  Herrn.,  one  of  his  teacher's  six  surviving  motets.  This  so  trans- 
ported the  visitor  that  he  asked  to  see  the  parts,  exclaiming, 
"Here,  for  once,  is  something  from  which  one  can  learn."  The  next 
stop  was  Potsdam,  where  Frederick  the  Great's  cultivated  nephew 
gave  Mozart  the  same  eager  reception  his  uncle  had  accorded 
Bach.  Although  Mozart  criticized  the  King's  band,  and  heckled 
the  orchestra  during  a  performance  of  his  own  Entfiihrung,  Fried- 
rich  Wilhelm  tipped  him  generously,  and  commissioned  him  to 
compose  six  string  quartets  and  also  six  easy  piano  sonatas  for  the 
Princess  Royal.*  The  legend  that  Mozart  turned  down  the  munifi- 
cently paid  job  of  Kapellmeister  at  Potsdam  in  deference  to  Josef 
II  is  probably  sheer  fantasy.  If  he  did  anything  so  unlikely,  he 
might  have  felt  himself  rewarded  on  his  return  to  Vienna  (with 
his  pockets  mysteriously  empty),  when  the  Emperor  ordered 
another  opera  from  him  and  Da  Ponte.  Cosifan  tutte,  their  new  col- 
laboration, was  hurried  through  for  the  winter  season,  and  pro- 
duced on  January  2,  1790. 

Much  has  been  written  about  Cost  fan  tutte,  and  most  of  that 
much  about  its  libretto,  which  has  been  denounced  alternately  as 
indecent  and  shallow.  There  is  a  grain  of  truth  in  both  criticisms, 
but  only  because  these  elements  necessarily  have  their  parts  in  the 
making  of  a  really  comic  opera.  The  libretto  is  actually  quite 
adequate,  with  its  many  absurd  contretemps.  In  general  plan  it 
resembles  The  Two  Gentlemen  of  Verona — with  extra  characters  and 
complications.  It  is,  quite  appropriately,  the  most  rococo  of 
Mozart's  operas — a  carnival  of  madcap  frivolity  and  fun  from  start 
to  finish.  It  is  interesting,  if  irrelevant,  to  note  that  Cosifan  tutte  had 
its  premiere  just  when  the  horrors  of  the  French  Revolution  were 
beginning.  On  this  exceedingly  flimsy  basis,  it  has  been  called  the 
swan  song  of  the  callous,  pleasure-mad  aristocracy  of  the  eight- 
eenth century  (which  in  Austria  went  its  own  pleasure-mad,  cal- 
lous way  for  decades  after  the  French  Revolution) .  The  opera  is  a 
delightful  confection,  musically  like  the  sugar  icing  on  a  cuckold's 
wedding  cake.  There  are  those  who  think  it  the  best  opera  Mozart 
ever  wrote. 

Cost  fan  tutte  delighted  the  unscrupulous  Viennese.  Unfortu- 

*  Mozart  composed  only  three  "Kong  of  Prussia"  Quartets,  and  but  one  of  the 

MOZART  155 

nately,  three  weeks  after  the  first  performance,  Josef  II  died. 
Again  Mozart's  hopes  were  dashed.  Leopold -II,  the  new  Emperor, 
was  violently  lukewarm  in  his  attitude  toward  music,  and  indiffer- 
ent to  Mozart,  who  was  not  included  in  the  entourage  summoned 
to  Frankfort  for  the  coronation.  Mozart's  actions  at  this  point 
were  hysterical.  Constanze  was  ailing,  and  required  expensive 
medical  care,  he  himself  had  only  just  recovered  from  a  serious  ill- 
ness, and  his  poverty  was  becoming  unbearable.  Yet  he  pawned 
the  few  valuables  he  had  left,  and  gallivanted  off  to  Frankfort 
with  the  idea  of  giving  concerts  while  the  city  was  crowded  with 
notables.  He  appeared  only  once?  when  he  played  the  so-called 
"Coronation"  Concerto  for  piano  and  orchestra  (K.  537),  which 
he  had  really  written  two  years  before.  As  usual,  there  was  much 
applause  but  small  financial  gain,  and  the  sad  tale  was  repeated 
wherever  he  stopped  to  play  on  his  way  home.  It  was  a  very  weary 
and  sick  man  who  reached  Vienna  in  November.  The  following 
month,  when  Haydn  came  to  see  him  before  leaving  for  London, 
Mozart  wept.  He  believed,  and  with  reason,  that  he  would  not  live 
to  see  his  beloved  friend's  return. 

The  early  months  of  1791  passed  uneventfully.  In  March, 
Mozart  ran  into  an  old  acquaintance  of  his  Salzburg  days,  Emanuel 
Schikaneder,  a  sort  of  theatrical  jack-of-all-trades,  who  at  the 
moment  was  staging  a  series  of  spectacle  plays  and  bawdy  farces  in 
a  large  but  flimsy  auditorium  outside  the  city  walls.  As  he  was  a 
brother  Mason,  Schikaneder  managed  to  induce  Mozart  to  set  a 
preposterous  sheaf  of  muddled  ideas  he  had  gathered  from  his 
reading  and  bound  together  with  ill-digested  Masonic  symbolism. 
Yet  this  potpourri  abounded  in  situations  and  characters  that 
Mozart  could  treat  effectively.  He  set  to  work  at  once  on  what  was 
to  be  his  last  opera,  Die  %auberflote,  and  as  Constanze  was  away 
taking  treatments  at  a  spa,  Schikaneder  provided  him  with  a  little 
workhouse  near  the  theater,  good  cheer,  and  jolly,  loose-living 
companions.  In  July,  while  he  was  still  toiling  on  the  score,  a 
stranger  approached  him  with  a  commission  to  write  a  Requiem 
by  a  set  date.  The  remuneration  was  inordinately  generous,  and 
the  anonymous  visitor  made  only  one  stipulation — absolute 
secrecy.  Mozart  agreed,  but  with  forebodings:  he  was  far  from 
well,  probably  running  a  fever,  and  the  cadaverous  stranger  may 

156  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

have  seemed  to  him  like  the  Devil  ordering  him  to  compose  his  own 
funeral  music. 

No  sooner  had  he  started  on  the  Requiem  than  a  third  com- 
mission arrived,  this  time  a  peremptory  request  to  compose  an 
opera  for  Leopold  II's  coronation  as  King  of  Bohemia  at  Prague. 
The  libretto  of  La  Clemenza  di  Tito.,  a  humdrum  revamping  of 
Metastasio,  offered  little  chance  to  even  so  resourceful  a  composer 
as  Mozart.  Also,  he  was  a  sick  man  living  on  his  will  power,  and 
had  to  complete  La  Clemenza  in  less  than  two  months.  To  make  him 
even  more  agitated,  just  as  he  was  stepping  into  the  Prague  coach 
the  cadaverous  stranger  reappeared,  and  asked  him  how  the 
Requiem  was  progressing.  Muttering  that  he  would  finish  it 
when  he  returned,  Mozart  got  inside,  and  with  a  strange  feeling 
that  all  was  not  well,  took  up  the  sketches  for  La  Clemenza,  the 
actual  writing  of  which  he  completed  in  Prague  in  eighteen  days. 
He  was  so  rushed  that  the  recitatives  had  to  be  entrusted  to  his 
friend  and  pupil,  Franz  Siissmayr.  At  its  premiere,  on  September  6> 
La  Clemenza  di  Tito  was  a  failure- — and  only  partly  because  the  court 
was  exhausted  after  the  rigors  of  the  coronation.  It  is  apiece  d*  occa- 
sion in  the  worst  sense  of  the  phrase.  Outside  of  an  impressive 
overture.,  a  brilliant  soprano  aria,  and  a  couple  of  duets,  it  clearly 
shows  the  strain  under  which  the  composer  was  working. 

Mozart  returned  to  Vienna  in  bad  health  and  dejected  spirits, 
which  did  not  prevent  him  from  pouring  his  failing  energy  into 
the  completion  of  Die  £auberfldte,  which  was  first  produced  at 
Schikaneder's  Theater  auf  der  Wieden  on  September  30.  At  first 
the  work  was  received  coldly,  but  so  rapidly  gained  in  popularity 
that  it  was  repeated  twenty-four  times  in  October  alone.  Its  ab- 
surd stage  business  was  probably  more  responsible  for  its  success 
than  the  music — today  it  is  the  other  way  round.  With  the  excep- 
tion of  Idomeneo,  it  is,  for  all  its  many  lapses  into  tomfoolery,  sus- 
tained on  loftier  heights  than  Mozart's  other  operas.  The  overture, 
a  work  of  the  most  solemn  beauty  despite  its  rapid  tempo,  elo- 
quently tells  us  that  we  are  to  hear  a  work  of  serious  import.  And 
so  it  is,  for  even  the  most  farcical  passages  had  originally  a  symbolic 
significance,  and  are  couched  in  Mozart's  most  sensitive  idiom. 
Die  %auberfl'6te  makes  use  of  many  musical  styles,  and  yet  achieves 
an  effect  of  unity.  The  fact  that  anything  can,  and  does,  happen  in 
this  Cloud-Cuckoo-Land  is  matched  by  the  variety  of  musical  ey- 

MOZART  157 

position.  And  though  the  dramatis  personae  are  but  symbols,  they 
run  the  widest  gamut  of  character  that  Mozart  ever  exploited  in 
one  opera,  from  the  grave,  almost  unctuous  priest,  Sarastro,  to 
that  delicious  eighteenth-century  Touchstone,  Papageno. 

Bernard  Shaw  has  somewhere  said  that  Mozart  gave  Sarastro 
the  only  music  that  would  not  sound  out  of  place  in  the  mouth  of 
God.  Be  that  as  it  may,  the  smug  high  priest  sings  two  of  the 
noblest  arias  ever  written  for  the  bass  voice — "0  Isis  und  Osiris" 
and  "In  diesen  heir  gen  Hdien"  the  first  of  which  has  a  majesty  and 
foursquareness  traceable  to  Mozart's  study  of  Handel.  The  Queen 
of  the  Night,  the  very  personification  of  evil,  curses  her  daughter* 
in  a  strikingly  florid  and  taxing  coloratura  aria,  "Der  holle  Roche" 
Listened  to  carelessly,  this  aria  sounds  much  like,  and  just  as 
empty  as,  the  "Bell  Song"  from  Lakme,  but  under  its  elegant  sur- 
faces a  dark  and  icy  fiendishness  lies  coiled.  The  Queen's  namby- 
pamby  daughter  and  the  birdman,  Papageno,  have  a  lusciously 
tender  duet,  "Eei  Manner^  welche  Liebefuhlen"  which  might  have 
escaped  from  the  most  amorous  pages  of  Figaro.  As  Schikaneder 
played  Papageno  in  the  original  production,  this  personage  has 
more  music  than  the  role  calls  for  dramatically,  but  Ms  songs  are 
farce  of  such  high  order  that  they  never  fail  to  bring  down  the 
house,  particularly  in  the  celebrated  "stuttering  duet5'!  with  his 
feather-covered  and  featherbrained  mate,  Papagena.  Thus,  Die 
%auberflote  has  something  for  every  taste*  But  the  final  appeal  of  this 
fairy  opera  with  a  moral  is  the  beauty,  range,  and  aptness  of  its 

With  this  last  of  his  operas  off  his  hands,  Mozart  collapsed.  He 
was  desperately  ill  (of  Blight's  disease,  it  has  been  conjectured)^ 
and  not  even  the  news  of  Die  ^auberftote^  growing  success  could, 
rouse  him  from  despondency,  Constanze's  absence  did  not  help:  in 
his  misery  and  torture,  he  needed  someone  with  him  constantly. 
He  turned  feverishly  to  the  Requiem,  and  worked  on  it  with 
desperate  concentration.  He  began  to  have  fainting  spells.  Fortu- 
nately, late  in  October  the  still-ailing  Constanze  returned,  bring- 

*  A  strange  situation  indeed,  considering  that  the  Queen  of  the  Night,  in  the 
libretto's  tortured  symbolism,  has  been  identified  with  the  family-loving  Maria 

f  The  prolonged  ovation  that  greeted  this  duet,  one  memorable  evening  at  the 
Chicago  Auditorium,  held  Marcella  Sembrich,  as  the  Queen  of  the  Night,  in  the 
wings  so  long  that  she  refused  ever  again  to  sing  in  that  city. 

158  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

ing  her  youngest  sister  to  nurse  both  herself  and  Mozart.  She 
realized  how  sick  he  was,  and  unsuccessfully  tried  to  make  him 
stop  work  on  the  Requiem.  A  new  horror  now  gripped  his  mind: 
being  unable  to  diagnose  his  disease  naturally  (it  may  have  been 
nothing  more  than  overwork  and  malnutrition  combined),  he 
developed  a  fixed  idea  that  he  had  been  poisoned  by  Salieri.* 
Every  evening,  when  theater  time  came  around,  he  followed  in 
imagination  the  performance  of  Die  £auberflote,  timing .  it  with  a 
watch.  Within  a  few  weeks  it  was  evident  that  he  was  fatally  ill, 
and  yet  so  amazing  were  his  recuperative  powers  that  on  Novem- 
ber 15  he  finished  a  Masonic  cantata,  and  even  conducted  it  a  few 
days  later. 

Relapse  was  almost  immediate.  He  continued  to  work  fitfully  at 
the  Requiem  even  when  racked  with  pain.  Sxissmayr  and  other 
friends  came  in  occasionally  to  sing  parts  of  it  with  him.  On 
December  4,  during  one  of  these  gatherings,  just  as  they  were  be- 
ginning the  Lacrymosa,  Mozart  began  to  sob,  and  they  had  to  stop. 
Before  the  day  was  over,  he  was  partly  paralyzed.  A  priest  came  to 
administer  the  last  sacraments,  and  Mozart  said  good-by  to  his 
family.  He  then  gave  some  last  instructions  to  Siissmayr  about  the 
still-unfinished  Requiem,  and  to  the  very  end  seemed  preoccupied 
with  it,  trying  to  sing,  and  even  puffing  out  his  cheeks  in  an  at- 
tempt to  imitate  the  trumpets.  Just  after  midnight,  he  died  quietly. 
It  was  the  morning  of  December  5,  1791. 

Constanze,  too  shattered  to  think,  automatically  followed  the 
sensible  advice  of  the  penurious  Van  Swieten  to  bury  her  husband 
as  cheaply  as  possible.  On  December  6,  during  a  rainstorm  that 
prevented  both  Constanze  and  Mozart's  friends  from  going  to  the 
potter's  field,  his  body  was  cast,  with  the  remains  of  a  dozen  other 
paupers,  into  a  common  grave.  When  Constanze  tried  to  find  the 
spot  some  time  later,  no  one  could  tell  her  where  it  was.  Almost 
seventy  years  afterward,  the  city  of  Vienna  erected  a  fine  memorial 
on  the  probable  site. 

The  Requiem,  Mozart's  last  musical  testament,  remained  a  col- 
lection of  fragments  and  sketches  until  Constanze,  who  seems  to 
have  been  injected  with  a  strong  dose  of  good  sense  as  soon  as  her 

*  Pushkin  used  this  absurd  idea  as  the  basis  for  a  dramatic  duologue,  which 
Rimsky-Korsakov  later  made  into  an  opera.  Salieri  was  so  hounded  by  the  rumor 
that  he  took  the  trouble  on  his  deathbed  to  send  for  Ignaz  Moscheles,  and  officially 
deny  the  story. 

MOZART  159 

husband  died,  finally  entrusted  it  to  Siissmayr,  who  knew  more 
than  anyone  else  about  Mozart's  intentions  concerning  it.  Suss- 
mayr  filled  out  the  work  with  sections  of  his  own  composition,  but 
doubtless  oriented  to  his  master's  hints.  Thus,  the  present  work  is  in 
design  not  too  unlike  what  it  might  have  been  had  Mozart  lived  to 
complete  it — whatever  one  may  think  of  Sussmayr's  own  pas- 
sages. It  was  delivered  to  the  mysterious  stranger,  who  turned  out 
to  be  Count  Franz  von  Walsegg's  major-domo,  as  being  entirely 
by  Mozart.  The  Count  then  had  it  performed  as  a  composition  of 
his  own — which  had  been  his  original  intention.  Thus  the  Requiem 
came  into  the  world  as  a  double  forgery,  which  was  partly  revealed 
when  Constanze  allowed  it  to  be  performed,  and  then  published, 
under  Mozart's  name.  The  parts  that  are  unquestionably  Mozart's, 
notably  the  Kyrie,  are  passionate  and  tragic,  and  rise  to  moments 
of  great  beauty.  But  they  are  informed  by  the  hectic  glow  of  a  sick 
mind.  Let  us  face  the  facts  squarely:  much  of  the  Requiem  (when 
it  is  not  from  Sussmayr's  earnest  but  mediocre  pen)  is  tortured  in 
expression  and  painful  to  hear.  It  is  easy  to  believe  that  Mozart 
composed  this  twisted,  self-searching,  and  self-revealing  music 
with  his  own  funeral  in  mind.  It  was  played  thirty-six  years  later 
at  the  solemn  High  Mass  for  the  repose  of  the  soul  of  Ludwig  van 

Myths  die  hard,  and  bad  myths  are  just  as  tenacious  of  life  as 
good  ones.  Alexander  the  Great,  Leonardo,  and  Beethoven  have 
given  rise  to  myths  that  are  constantly  renewed  by  their  essential 
truth.  The  Mozart  myth  is  another  matter:  it  is  a  bad  myth  with 
just  enough  truth  in  it  to  make  it  linger  on.  It  presents  Mozart  as  a 
perpetual  child,  dowered  with  an  infallible  and  limitless  tech- 
nique, composing  a  great  variety  of  delightful  but  empty  music. 
Now,  Mozart  wrote  a  vast  deal,  much  of  which — almost  all,  in- 
deed, of  that  written  before  1780 — can  accurately  be  described  as 
delightful  but  empty.  And  even  some  of  his  finest  compositions  are 
marred  by  uninspired  passagework  which  has  about  as  much  sig- 
nificance as  a  Czerny  finger  exercise — in  this  respect,  Haydn,  who 
has  often  been  criticized  for  his  abuse  of  the  technical  cliche,  erred 
far  less  than  Mozart.  Yes,  the  myth  has  a  core  of  truth.  The  amaz- 
ing thing  is  that  it  has  persisted  whole  in  the  face  of  the  pure  gold 
that  it  overlooks.  The  simplest  of  the  many  possible  refutations  of 

l6o  MEN     OF     MUSIC 

the  eternal-child  myth  is  to  cite  the  last  three  symphonies,  which 
impinge  upon  almost  every  conceivable  emotion.  These  are  in- 
dubitably the  expressions  of  a  mature  and  abounding  personality. 
What  has  blinded  many  to  Mozart's  emotional  range  and  pro- 
fundity is  the  fact  that  its  expression  is  so  perfectly  disciplined:  they 
have  fallen  into  the  fatal  error  of  gauging  emotional  expression 
by  a  preconceived  norm — the  seeming  indiscipline  of  the  best 
romantic  art. 

A  more  serious  doubt  has  been  cast  on  Mozart's  place  as  the 
peer  of  Bach  and  Beethoven.  W.  J.  Turner,  who  yielded  to  none  in 
his  worship  of  Mozart,  was  the  most  perfectly  articulate  spokesman 
of  those  who  find  him  lacking  one  essential  which,  together  with 
his  other,  unquestioned,  qualities,  would  add  up  to  sublimity. 
Speaking  of  the  notorious  lapse  in  mood  (almost  inexplicable  on 
the  basis  of  taste  alone)  in  the  finale  of  the  G  minor  Quintet  (K. 
516),  he  said,  "That  finale  is  beyond  all  denial  inadequate.  Why? 
Because  after  the  poignant,  heart-breaking  intensity  of  the  slow 
movement  some  affirmation  of  the  soul  is  inexorably  demanded. 
Mozart  could  not  make  that  affirmation.  He  could  not  even  attempt 
to  make  it ...  he  had  no  faith,  he  could  not  lift  up  his  heart  and 
sing  from  the  bottom  of  that  abyss.  .  .  *  Therefore,  and  therefore 
only,  he  is  not  the  world's  greatest  composer."*  This  argument  is 
based  on  that  ethical  approach  (more  widely  held  in  the  nine- 
teenth century  of  Ruskin  and  Tolstoi  than  now)  which  conceives 
the  greatest  artist  to  be  he  who  struggles  most  desperately  in  the 
waste  places  of  the  soul,  and  emerges  singing  the  song  of  faith  and 
triumph.  Without  entering  into  the  validity  of  this  point  of  view,  it 
is  clear  that  to  those  who  hold  it,  Mozart  must  ever  seem,  in  this 
respect,  inadequate. 

However,  even  this  criticism  might  have  been  obviated  had 
Mozart  lived  but  a  few  years  longer.  The  last  years  of  his  life  saw 
his  art  deepening,  becoming  more  searching  of  self  and  things, 
turning  toward  those  sources  of  inspiration  that  can  lead  to  the 
hymning  of  life  entire.  What  these  sources  were,  it  is  as  impossible 
to  know  in  Mozart's  case  as  in  Beethoven's.  But  everything  in- 
dicates that  this  still-young  man,  who  so  sorely  needed  a  vacation 

*Thus  Turner  in  Volume  I  of  The  Heritage  of  Music  (London,  1927).  In  Mozart: 
the  Man  and  His  Works  (New  York,  1938)*  he  allowed  his  hero  no  limitations  at  all 

MOZART  l6l 

and  a  little  more  food,  had  not  yet  reached  the  summit  of  his 
genius,  and  was  on  the  verge  of  new  and  tremendous  under- 
takings. There  was  no  sign  of  abatement  in  that  matchless  flood  of 
musical  ideas,  he  was  the  greatest  musical  technician  of  all  times, 
and  he  died  at  thirty-six,  an  age  at  which  Bach  and  Beethoven 
were  still  preparing  for  their  supreme  masterpieces.  Mozart  died 
in  the  moment  of  victory — but  before  he  could  make  his  affirmation, 
as  he  himself  knew: 

"I  am  at  the  point  of  death.  I  have  finished  before  I  could  enjoy 
my  talent.  Yet  life  is  so  beautiful,  my  career  opened  so  auspiciously 
— but  fate  is  not  to  be  changed.  ...  I  thus  finish  my  funeral  song — 
I  must  not  leave  it  uncompleted." 

Chapter  VII 

Ludwig  van  Beethoven 

(Bonn,  December  16,  lyyo-March  263  1827,  Vienna) 

THE  history  of  music  offers  no  experience  comparable  to  that 
sense  of  an  expanding  universe  afforded  by  the  masterpieces  oi 
Ludwig  van  Beethoven.  With  the  advent  of  this  titanic  presence, 
there  is  an  abrupt  break  with  the  past  that  has  few  parallels  in  the 
entire  history  of  art.  The  essential  Beethoven  was  completely  un^ 
prepared  for.  His  great  predecessors,  from  Palestrina  to  Mozart, 
were  men  without  whom  the  musical  structure  he  found,  honored, 
and  changed  could  not  have  been  reared,  but  only  insofar  as  they 
gave  him  his  tools  was  he  in  their  debt.  These  men,  master  musi- 
cians though  they  were,  had  been  the  creatures  of  an  ordered  uni- 
verse. Their  reactions  to  it  had  been  as  various  as  their  characters; 
they  had  praised  it,  accepted  it,  or  disregarded  it — but  in  no  case 
did  they  question  it.  Even  Haydn,  who  was  Beethoven's  con- 
temporary for  almost  forty  years,  and  who  passed  the  fullness  of 
his  maturity  during  the  French  Revolution,  never  questioned  the 
ideas  of  the  times  that  had  molded  him.  But  Beethoven,  who  came 
of  age  at  the  very  high  noon  of  the  Terror,  passed  through  the 
refiner's  fire  of  this  crucial  chaotic  epoch:  the  flames  of  liberty, 
equality,  and  fraternity  blazed  hot  against  his  face,  and  seared  him 
for  life. 

Beethoven  is  the  first,  and  in  some  respects  the  only,  composer 
who  stepped  outside  the  frame  of  his  art,  to  live  wholly  and  hero- 
ically in  the  world.  He  could  not  be  content  merely  to  write  music: 
unrest  was  in  his  soul,  and  doubt  which  in  its  savage  intensity 
made  the  polite  skepticism  of  the  eighteenth  century  seem  puny. 
Thought  pursued  him  like  a  nemesis — he  could  not  get  away  from 
it.  His  wrestling  with  destiny,  not  only  his  own  but  that  of  man- 
kind, is  one  of  the  great  epics  of  the  modern  world:  he  told  it  in  a 
succession  of  mighty  works  which,  in  their  boundless  humanity 
and  immediacy  of  appeal,  have  never  been  equaled.  By  his 
struggles,  Beethoven  became  one  of  the  heroes  of  mankind;  by  his 
triumphs,  he  has  become  one  of  its  prophets. 

He  was  born  at  one  of  those  strange  moments  of  history  when 



nature  spews  forth  genius  with  an  inexplicable  lavishness.  The 
time  was,  for  better  or  worse.,  fateful  for  the  shaping  of  life  and  art. 
Napoleon,  whose  ambitions  created  the  French  Empire  and  untold 
misery;  Wordsworth,  who  gave  the  new  age  a  voice;  Beethoven, 
who  lifted  music  to  a  new  grandeur — these  three  men,  born  within 
seventeen  months,  were  to  play  great  parts  in  the  vast  drama  that 
ushered  in  the  nineteenth  century.  Napoleon,  the  revolutionary, 
became  the  autocrat  of  Europe,  and  died  shorn  of  ideals  and  power 
alike;  the  generous-souled  Wordsworth  ended  up  a  timeserving 
poet  laureate;  Beethoven  alone  had  the  strength  and  the  integrity  to 
die  as  he  had  lived — faithful  to  the  daemon  that  had  moved  him. 
His  life  has  been  painted  as  a  tragedy,  but  he  had  the  only  kind  of 
success  that  could  really  have  mattered  to  him. 

The  times,  certainly,  were  propitious  for  shaping  the  sort  of 
stormy  genius  Beethoven  was,  and  his  heredity  and  early  environ- 
ment were  equally  so.  The  Beethovens  had  been  musicians  for  two 
generations:  Ludwig,  the  grandfather,  who  rose  to  be  Kapell- 
meister to  the  Elector  of  Cologne,  also  carried  on  a  thriving  wine 
business;  his  son  Johann,  a  singer  in  the  Elector's  choir,  was,  by  the 
time  of  his  marriage  to  a  young  widow,  more  celebrated  for  his 
drinking  than  for  his  voice.  Thus,  at  Ludwig's  cradle  there  were  as 
many  wicked  fairies  as  good  ones:  from  his  Grandfather  Beethoven 
he  inherited  a  certain  physical  toughness  on  which  he  could  rely 
to  see  him  through  the  energy-burning  crises  of  his  life,  as  well  as 
an  earnest  consciousness  of  good  and  evil.  To  his  Grandmother 
Beethoven  and  his  father,  both  of  whom  became  hopeless  drunk- 
ards, he  owed  those  erratic,  fevered  qualities  which  played  a  salient 
role  in  the  development  of  his  art,  and  which  always  made  him  a 
difficult  person. 

Beethoven  first  saw  the  light  of  day  in  Bonn,  and  in  this  lazy 
old  Rhenish  town  he  passed  a  miserably  unhappy  boyhood.  The 
Beethovens  were  desperately  poor:  Johannes  three  hundred 
florins  a  year  was  barely  sufficient  to  support  a  childless  couple, 
and  in  twenty  years  of  married  life  he  fathered  seven  children,  of 
whom  three  boys  reached  manhood.  Johann,  originally  a  genial 
fellow,  developed  swinish  habits  and  a  nasty  temper.  Yet  his 
father  believed  that  this  brute  had  lowered  himself  by  marrying 
a  mere  cook's  daughter,  though  to  the  Elector  musicians  and 
cooks  were  equally  servants.  Actually,  Frau  van  Beethoven  was 

164  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

many  cuts  above  her  husband — a  sympathetic  and  intelligent 
woman  whose  calm  acceptance  of  a  painful  status  quo  alone  kept  a 
semblance  of  order  in  the  household.  She  never  complained,  but  it 
is  little  wonder  that  she  was  never  seen  to  smile. 

There  was  never  any  question  which  parent  Beethoven  pre- 
ferred. To  him  his  mother  was  a  beneficent  deity — the  only  gra- 
cious thing  in  his  wretched  childhood.  Johann,  whose  treatment  of 
his  wife  was  insensitive,  was  harsh  and  unimaginative  in  his  deal- 
ings with  his  eldest  son.  In  his  frenzied  quest  for  a  further  source  of 
income,  he  hit  upon  the  idea  of  making  Ludwig  a  child  prodigy 
after  the  pattern  of  Mozart.  Leopold  Mozart  may  justly  be  accused 
of  putting  his  son  through  a  forcing-house,  but  his  method  was 
gentle,  and  he  was  motivated,  at  least  partly,  by  a  burning  love  for 
music.  But  to  Johaim  van  Beethoven  music  was  merely  a  trade 
and  he  set  Ludwig  to  learning  it— -he  evidently  thought  that 
Mozarts  could  be  produced  at  will.  He  himself  undertook  the  job 
of  turning  out  the  Wurderkind^  and  at  first  his  hopes  seemed  sure 
of  fulfillment,  for  at  six  the  boy  had  learned  to  perform  creditably 
on  the  piano  and  violin.  In  1778,  Johann  gave  the  public  its  first 
chance  to  hear  the  prodigy  he  had  been  preparing  for  them,  slyly 
announcing  Ludwig  as  two  years  younger  than  he  really  was.  The 
sole  resxilt  of  what  probably  was  a  fiasco  (in  view  of  the  complete 
silence  as  to  its  effect)  was  that  Ludwig  got  a  new  teacher.  But  this 
quavering  old  feEow  could  teach  him  nothing,  and  soon  yielded  to 
one  of  Johann's  rowdy  pals,  a  tenor  named  Pfeiffer  who  lodged  in 
die  same  house  as  the  Beethovens.  His  method  of  teaching  was 
unique:  he  would  come  roaring  home  in  the  middle  of  the  night 
after  a  round  of  the  taverns  with  Johann,  and  get  Ludwig  out  of 
bed  for  his  lesson.  The  picture  of  the  small,  sleepy  lad  pestered  by 
his  music  teacher  and  his  father  is  absurdly  like  that  of  the  im- 
mortal Dormouse  plagued  by  the  Mad  Hatter  and  the  March  Hare. 
No  wonder  Beethoven  was  an  indifferent  scholar  during  the  few 
years  he  attended  common  school!  Nor  was  the  proud  and  self- 
willed  lad  apt  to  respond  to  these  repressive  methods  as  his  father 
tad  hoped. 

And  yet,  develop  Beethoven  did,  though  too  slowly  for  a  bona 
fide  prodigy.  Teachers  came  and  went,  none  of  them  very  able  or 
inspiring,  and  a  time  arrived  when  these  ninth-raters  could  teach 
Mm  nothing.  He  was  ten  years  old  before  he  found  a  master  worthy 


of  his  talents — Christian  Gottlob  Neefe,  the  newly  appointed  court 
organist.  Neefe  was  a  conservative,  but  he  worshiped  music,  and 
his  taste  was  sure.  He  immediately  set  Beethoven  to  studying 
a  handwritten  copy  of  The  Well-Tempered  Clavichord,  then  still  un- 
published., and  thus  initiated  his  lifelong  interest  in  Bach.  Neefe 
believed  in  the  urchin;  he  educated  him  painstakingly,  and  stimu- 
lated his  natural  flair  for  composing  by  having  a  juvenile  effort 
published.  Beethoven  made  such  rapid  progress  that  in  1 783  Neefe 
said  in  a  magazine  article,  "If  he  goes  on  as  he  has  begun,  he  will 
certainly  become  a  second  Mozart."  After  a  year's  instruction, 
Beethoven  was  able  to  deputize  for  Neefe  at  the  organ;  after  Neefe's 
duties  became  heavier,  he  sometimes  led  the  opera  orchestra  from 
the  clavier.  The  job  was  unpaid,  the  experience  invaluable.  Beetho- 
ven never  forgot  Neefe's  unfailing  kindness.  In  1792,  with  a  touch 
of  characteristic  self-assurance  and  grandiloquence,  he  wrote  to  his 
old  teacher,  "I  thank  you  for  your  counsel  very  often  given  me  in 
the  course  of  my  progress  in  my  divine  art.  If  ever  I  become  a  great 
man,  yours  will  be  some  of  the  credit,"  and  the  delighted  Neefe 
published  the  letter  in  the  Berliner  Musik-^eitung. 

Beethoven  soon  got  his  first  big  chance.  In  1784,  the  Elector 
died,  and  Maria  Theresa's  youngest  son  succeeded  him.  In  the 
shuffling  of  appointments  that  ensued,  Neefe's  thirteen-year-old 
pupil  was  appointed  assistant  court  organist  at  a  salary  of  one 
hundred  and  fifty  florins  a  year*  Johann  van  Beethoven's  reactions 
must  have  mingled  relief  with  chagrin:  Ludwig  was  adding  to  the 
family  income,  but  the  Elector  seemingly  did  not  value  Johann's 
services  enough  to  raise  his  pay.  Young  Beethoven  did  his  job  so 
well  that  for  a  time  there  was  talk  of  his  taking  Neefe' s  place.  He 
began  to  lead  a  full  life  in  a  Bonn  that  was  reawakening  artistically 
and  intellectually  under  the  enlightened  rule  of  the  Elector  Maxi- 
milian Franz.  In  the  spring  of  1787,  Beethoven,  had  his  first  taste 
of  a  truly  cosmopolitan  culture,  when  he  visited  Vienna,  presum- 
ably on  funds  advanced  by  a  patron.  He  met  Mozart,  who  spoke 
flatteringly  of  his  playing,  and  possibly  gave  the  boy  lessons  in 
composition,  though  in  mourning  for  his  father  and  hard  at  work 
on  Don  Giovanni.  Beethoven  was  recalled  to  Bonn  by  news  of  his 
mother's  illness;  letters,  more  and  more  alarming,  reached  him 
on  the  road,  but  he  found  her  still  alive,  though  in  intense  agony. 

l66  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

She  was  in  the  last  stages  of  consumption,  and  died  a  few  weeks 

The  death  of  his  mother,  whom  Beethoven  had  adored,  brought 
on  the  first  of  those  emotional  crises  that  recurred  constantly 
throughout  his  life.  He  gave  way  to  gloomy  forebodings;  he  suf- 
fered from  attacks  of  asthma — the  neurotic's  disease  par  excellence 
— and  feared  that  it  would  develop  into  consumption.  Throughout 
life  Beethoven  was  fortunate  in  his  friends:  now  he  was  gradually 
coaxed  back  to  mental  health  by  the  sympathetic  interest  and  pa- 
tient care  of  the  noble  Von  Breuning  family,  the  first  in  that  pro- 
cession of  long-suffering  Samaritans  who,  despite  his  outbursts  of 
arrogance  and  downright  rudeness,  ministered  untiringly  to  his 
difficult  needs.  Frau  von  Breuning  was  a  second  mother  to  Beetho- 
ven, who  was  admitted  on  terms  of  absolute  equality  with  her  chil- 
dren to  the  cultural  freemasonry  of  their  fine  home.  He  passed 
through  its  portals  as  into  a  friendly  university,  and  there  laid  the 
foundation  for  the  obsessing  intellectual  interests  of  his  life.  Scarcely 
less  decisive  was  his  friendship  with  Count  Ferdinand  von  Wald- 
stein,  who  gave  him  his  first  piano,  and  generously  opened  his 
purse  when  the  finances  of  the  Beethovens  were  at  lowest  ebb. 
With  exquisite  tact,  he  pretended  that  these  moneys  were  gratui- 
ties from  his  friend  the  Elector. 

Beethoven  was  happy  until,  after  a  day .  of  court  duty  and  time 
with  his  friends,  he  turned  in  at  his  own  door  in  the  Wenzelgasse. 
There,  as  like  as  not,  he  would  find  his  father  in  a  drunken  stupor, 
and  his  two  younger  brothers  neglected  and  unfed.  Johann  van 
Beethoven  was  no  longer  a  responsible  person.  At  his  wits5  end,  in 
November,  1789,  the  nineteen-year-old  Ludwig  successfully  peti- 
tioned the  Elector  to  divert  half  of  Johann's  salary  to  himself,  and 
make  him  legal  head  of  the  family.  This  desperate  measure  worked, 
and  with  his  domestic  affairs  on  the  mend,  Beethoven  could  plunge 
wholeheartedly  into  his  increasingly  engrossing  duties.  The  Elec- 
tor, after  settling  the  troubled  finances  of  his  domains,  felt  himself 
justified  in  indulging  his  desire  for  a  large  musical  establishment. 
Considering  his  enormous  bulk  (he  eventually  became  the  fattest 
man  in  Europe),  his  energy  was  astonishing:  in  a  trice,  he  had  or- 
ganized an  operatic  troupe  and  an  orchestra  of  thirty-one  pieces 
that  rivaled  the  famous  Mannheim  ensemble.  Before  1792,  when 
it  was  dispersed,  the  opera  company  achieved  a  large  repertoire, 


including  works  by  Gluck,  Mozart,  and  Salieri.  Beethoven,  as  viola 
player  in  the  band,  came  to  know  intimately  a  wide  variety  of 
dramatic  music.  The  young  bear  was  well  liked  by  his  fellows,  and 
seems  to  have  played  a  leading  part  in  their  off-hours  fun. 

Toward  the  end  of  his  life  in  Bonn,  Beethoven  achieved  a  posi- 
tion of  local  eminence  out  of  proportion  to  his  accomplishments  as 
an-  instrumentalist.  This  can  only  have  been  due  to  many  of  his 
compositions  being  circulated  in  autograph  among  his  friends,  in- 
cluding some  that  were  not  published  until  years — in  some  cases, 
many  years — later  in  Vienna.  Neefe  was  not  the  only  one  in  Bonn 
who  thought  that  Beethoven  would  one  day  be  the  peer  of  Mozart. 
It  is  not  surprising,  then,  that  in  July,  1792,  when  Haydn  passed 
through  Bonn  on  his  return  from  London,  Beethoven  was  espe- 
cially commended  to  him.  Haydn  praised  a  cantata  that  Beethoven 
submitted  for  criticism,  and  encouraged  him  to  continue  his  stud- 
ies. This  kind  word  from  music's  dictator  released  a  spring  in 
Beethoven:  Vienna,  with  lessons  from  Haydn  practically  assured, 
irresistibly  beckoned  him.  Waldstein  and  Neefe  pled  his  case  with 
the  Elector,  who  consented  to  finance  the  hegira.  By  November, 
Beethoven  was  on  his  way — and  none  too  soon:  just  two  days  be- 
fore he  left  Bonn  forever,  the  Elector  himself  had  fled,  for  the 
troops  of  revolutionary  France  were  marching  on  his  capital. 

As  the  Elector's  troubles  delayed  the  payment  of  his  official  sti- 
pend, Beethoven  was  hard  pressed  at  first.  Only  a  fraction  of  the 
special  grant  ever  reached  him,  and  he  had  to  dig  into  his  small 
savings  to  make  ends  meet.  Things  were  complicated  by  his  fa- 
ther's death  in  December.  It  seemed  momentarily  that  the  pen- 
sion, which  had  been  earmarked  for  the  support  of  Beethoven's 
brothers,  would  be  stopped,  but  the  Elector,  after  returning  to 
Bonn,  continued  it  until  he  was  chased  out  again  in  1794.  Haydn 
charged  Beethoven  almost  nothing — five  sessions  with  him  came 
to  less  than  a  dollar.  But  Beethoven  was  dissatisfied:  apart  from  the 
difficulties  arising  from  their  totally  divergent  temperaments,  he 
was  annoyed  by  Haydn's  desultory  conduct  of  the  lessons.  The 
student  was  avid  to  crowd  in  as  much  learning  as  possible;  the 
master  was  preoccupied  with  a  new  repertoire  for  his  second  Eng- 
lish tour.  Beethoven  secretly  began  to  take  lessons  from  a  solid 
pedagogue.  Although  Haydn  invited  him  to  go  on  the  English  tour, 
it  nevertheless  seems  that  an  open  rupture  was  avoided  only  by 

l68  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Haydn's  departure.  Perhaps  the  most  eloquent  comment  on  this 
abortive  association  of  two  great  musicians  is  Beethoven's  refusal 
to  put  the  phrase  "Pupil  of  Josef  Haydn"  on  some  of  his  early 
publications  when  his  old  teacher  requested  him  to  do  so.  That  no 
simple  explanation  covers  the  situation  is  proved  by  the  fact  that 
though  Beethoven  inscribed  his  first  three  piano  sonatas  to  Haydn, 
he  said  in  his  downright  way  that  he  had  never  learned  anything 
from  him, 

Beethoven  adapted  himself  to  Viennese  life  with  remarkable 
alacrity.  He  had  come  armed  with  many  valuable  letters  of  intro- 
duction from  Count  von  Waldstein  and  the  Von  Breunings,  and 
within  a  short  time  he  numbered  most  of  the  influential  patrons  of 
music  among  his  acquaintances-  The  doors  of  Vienna's  most  splen- 
did palaces  swung  open  to  Mm,  Prince  Lobkowitz,  Baron  van 
Swieten,  the  Esterhazys,  and  Prince  Karl  Lichnowsky  were  proud 
to  call  him  friend.  Within  little  more  than  a  twelvemonth  he  was 
installed  in  Lichnowsky's  fine  lodgings  in  the  same  house  where  he 
had  formerly  occupied  a  garret  room.  He  was  comparatively  afflu- 
ent: some  of  his  stipend  had  been  restored,  pupils  were  beginning 
to  seek  him  out,  aad  his  already  famous  improvising  made  him  a 
favorite  society  attraction.  The  seven  years  after  he  left  Bonn  were 
the  most  carefree  of  his  life.  He  was  still  the  same  "small,  thin, 
dark-complexioned,  pockmarked,  dark-eyed,  bewigged  young  mu- 
sician," who,  as  his  tireless  biographer,  Thayer,  says,  "journeyed 
to  the  capital  to  pursue  the  study  of  his  art  ..."  But  the  sinewy 
form  was  carefully,  even  elegantly^  tricked  out  in  the  most  fashion- 
able clothes  available. 

Beethoven  was  enjoying  society,  but  he  never  neglected  music 
for  a  moment.  He  was  taking  lessons  on  three  instruments,  study- 
ing counterpoint  with  the  noted  theorist,  Johann  Georg  Al- 
brechtsberger,  amplifying  sketches  made  in  Bonn,  and  composing 
new  works.  Into  the  notebooks  he  had  begun  to  keep  before  he  was 
out  of  his  teens,  he  now  began  to  crowd  that  welter  of  musical 
ideas,  in  all  stages  of  development,  which  make  the  notebooks 
comparable  to  Leonardo's.  To  examine  them  is  to  be  vouchsafed 
a  unique  opportunity  to  see  the  unfolding — hesitant,  baffled^  and 
inspired — of  genius.  Starting  with  what  may  seem  an  unpromising, 
even  banal,  sequence  of  notes,  adding  to  them,  subtracting,  em- 
phasizing, finally  perfecting,  Beethoven  worked — sometimes  for 


decades — at  these  viable  fragments.  Many  a  composition  which 
seems  like  the  product  of  a  single  mighty  inspiration  was  pieced  to- 
gether from  these  apparently  unrelated  sketches.  In  a  very  real 
sense,  it  may  be  said  that  from  the  very  beginning  of  his  creative 
life,  Beethoven  was  at  work  on  all  of  his  compositions.  There  is  evi- 
dence that  even  the  publication  of  a  masterpiece  (which  may  sound 
well-nigh  perfect  to  us)  did  not  free  Beethoven's  mind  of  the  prob- 
lems it  presented.  His  life  is  one  endless  quest  for  the  ideal  form 
that  would  completely  express  the  unity  he  had  envisioned  from 
the  beginning. 

Anyone  watching  the  progress  of  Beethoven's  career  during  those 
first  years  in  Vienna  would  have  been  almost  sure  to  assume  that 
he  was  well  on  the  way  to  becoming  the  leading  piano  virtuoso  of 
his  age.  He  routed  all  comers  who  dared  measure  their  powers 
against  his.  One  of  his  noted  rivals  once  burst  out  in  sernicomic 
exasperation,  "Ah,  he's  no  man — he's  a  devil.  He  will  play  me  and 
all  of  us  to  death.5*  His  improvisations,  which  were  the  sensation  of 
Vienna,  have  made  him  the  subject  of  thoughtless  and  invidious 
comparisons  with  Liszt,  whose  public  pianism  was  as  theatrical  as 
Beethoven's  was  grave  and  sincerely  emotional.  In  March,  1795, 
he  made  his  first  public  appearance  at  a  benefit  concert,  playing 
his  own  B  flat  Concerto  for  piano  and  orchestra,  which  he  had 
finished  two  days1  before.  His  fame,  which  had  hitherto  been  con- 
fined to  the  palaces  of  the  nobility,  now  became  public  property. 

During  the  next  three  years,  Beethoven  was  in  and  out  of  Vi- 
enna, often  in  Prince  Lichnowsky's  company,  playing  at  various 
places  in  Austria,  Germany,  and  Hungary.  Prague  took  to  him  as 
rapturously  as  it  had  to  Mozart,  and  there  he  probably  first  played 
his  G  major  Concerto  for  piano  and  orchestra.  The  B  flat  Con- 
certo, with  its  elegant  pretensions,  is  a  shallow  and  thankless  work, 
and  is  rightly  neglected.  The  C  major  represents  a  decided  ad- 
vance:* though  it  does  not  show  Beethoven  in  full  command  of 
his  own  style,  and  teems  with  echoes  of  Haydn  and  Mozart,  it  has 
just  as  many  touches  that  show  that  no  one  but  Beethoven  could 
have  written  it.  The  final  rondo  is  a  triumph  of  his  most  bravura 
style,  with  a  subtle  duality  of  character:  passages  of  delicate,  urbane 
wit  alternate  with  robust  hurly-burly  and  Papa  Haydn  cracking 

*  The  G  major  Concerto,  though  referred  to  as  the  First,  was  really  composed 
two  years  after  the  B  flat — the  so-called  Second, 

170  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

his  most  outrageous  jokes.  Beethoven  may  have  been  telling  the 
exact  truth  when  he  said  that  he  had  learned  nothing  from  Haydn's 
teaching,  but  that  he  learned  much  from  Haydn's  music  is  as  evi- 
dent in  the  C  major  Concerto  as  in  the  first  three  piano  sonatas 
(Opus  2).  Many  of  their  themes  are  pure  Haydn,  but  the  develop- 
ment is  Beethoven  in  its  direction  and  peculiar  unexpectedness:  it 
seems  as  if  he  faithfully  follows  his  model  up  to  a  certain  point,  and 
then  begins  to  reflect,  to  examine  the  themes  from  every  angle,  and 
to  tell  us  what  he  finds  in  them. 

Beethoven,  as  compared  with  Mozart,  evolved  slowly.  The  sec- 
ond group  of  piano  sonatas  (Opus  10),  published  when  he  was 
twenty-seven,  show  that  he  was  well  on  the  way  to  achieving  his 
own  characteristic  treatment  of  material,  but  had  not  yet  found 
the  sort  of  material  we  now  consider  typically  Beethovian.  If 
Mozart  had  died  at  twenty-seven,  he  would  still  be  regarded  as 
one  of  the  masters;  had  Beethoven  died  at  the  same  age,  he  would 
now  probably  be  forgotten — an  item  in  a  musical  dictionary.  The 
story  of  his  life  lends  weight  to  the  widely  held  theory  that  great 
art  flowers  out  of  suffering:  happiness  did  not  release  his  genius — 
only  when  he  began  to  suffer  was  its  whole  strength  unloosed.  In 
1798,  possibly  as  the  result  of  a  severe  illness,  he  began  to  have 
trouble  with  his  hearing.  At  first,  it  was  a  mere  humming  in  his 
ears,  and  he  paid  slight  attention  to  it.  But  it  recurred  again  and 
again,  and  he  began  to  brood  over  it,  to  consult  doctors.  Can  it  be 
more  than  coincidence  that  he  composed  the  Sonata  "Pathttique" 
at  this  time?  The  famous  ten-bar  introduction  is  precisely  the  sort 
of  material  around  which  the  vast  dramas  of  the  later  Beethoven 
were  to  be  built.  But  like  so  many  transitional  works,  it  lacks  in- 
evitability of  development.  Its  beauties  are  isolated,  and  much  is 
brought  forth  that  may  be  dismissed  as  fustian.  The  tragedy  is  still 
on  the  surface:  the  general  effect  is  one  of  attitudinizing,  the  final 
result  melodrama,  which  is  particularly  out  of  place  in  a  sonata. 

The  close  of  the  century  coincided  with  the  end  of  Beethoven's 
apprenticeship,  for  at  that  time  he  first  brought  forward  works  in- 
dicating beyond  question  that  greatness  was  in  him.  Within  three 
years,  he  was  to  stake  his  claim,  and  carve  out  a  province  un- 
matched in  its  variety  of  landscape,  from  broad  and  undulating 
champaigns  to  alps  of  most  terrific  grandeur.  On  April  2,  1800,  at 
the  first  of  his  own  public  concerts,  he  inaugurated  that  unparai- 


leled  series  of  nine  symphonies  which  are  still,  after  more  than  a 
century,  far  and  away  the  most  stupendous,  and  yet  familiar,  mas- 
terpieces in  this  form.  He  limited  the  program  to  Haydn,  Mozart, 
and  two  new  works  of  his  own — the  Septet  for  strings  and  wind 
instruments  and  the  First  (G  major)  Symphony.  The  Septet,  now 
seldom  heard,  had  such  a  persistent  success  that  in  later  years 
Beethoven,  who  did  not  regard  it  highly,  could  not  bear  to  hear  it 
praised.  It  is  a  pleasant,  melodious  creation,  lovingly  enough  con- 
structed, but  conventional  in  outline — definitely  second-rate  Beetho- 
ven. Nor  can  much  more  be  claimed  for  the  C  major  Symphony, 
which  is  light  in  caliber,  eighteenth  century  in  flavor.  It  is  a  tech- 
nically sure  first  essay,  but  the  problems  raised  are  relatively  sim- 
ple. For  all  its  charm  and  moments  of  cheerful  noisiness,  it  is 
merely  hear  able,  not  memorable,  music. 

The  First  Symphony,  which  today  strikes  us  as  a  Mozartian 
echo,  shocked  the  Viennese  at  whatever  points  the  real  Beethoven 
was  apparent.  He  himself  was  dissatisfied — for  different  reasons. 
In  1 80 1,  however,  he  quite  captivated  the  city  with  an  overture 
and  incidental  music  to  a  ballet.  Die  Geschopfe  des  Prometheus.  The 
cheery  little  overture,  also  derivative  from  Mozart,  is  still  occa- 
sionally heard.  These  lighthearted  illustrations  of  scenes  from  the 
life  of  a  suffering  demigod  are  (a  few  potboilers  aside)  almost 
Beethoven's  last  incursion  into  the  realm  of  the  frivolous.  The  very 
next  year,  he  said  decisively,  "I  am  not  contented  with  my  work 
so  far;  henceforth  I  shall  take  a  new  path." 

The  reasons  that  prompted  Beethoven  to  make  such  an  aggres- 
sive pronunciamento  are  as  simple — and  as  complex — as  those  which 
led  him  to  write,  in  October,  1802,  that  tortured,  almost  hysterical 
farewell  to  the  world  known  as  the  "Heiligenstadt  Testament"  be- 
cause it  was  written  while  he  was  rusticating  at  that  village  near 


O  ye  men,  who  think  or  say  that  I  am  malevolent,  stubborn  or  mis- 
anthropic, how  greatly  do  ye  wrong  me,  you  do  not  know  the  secret 
causes  of  my  seeming,  from  childhood  my  heart  and  mind  were  disposed 
to  the  gentle  feeling  of  good  will,  I  was  even  ever  eager  to  accomplish 
great  deeds,  but  reflect  now  that  for  6  years  I  have  been  in  a  hopeless 
case,  aggravated  by  senseless  physicians,  cheated  year  after  year  in  the 

172  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

hope  of  improvement,  finally  compelled  to  face  the  prospect  of  a  lasting 
malady  (whose  cure  will  take  years,  or,  perhaps,  be  impossible),  born 
with  an  ardent  and  lively  temperament,  even  susceptible  to  the  diver- 
sions of  society,  I  was  compelled  early  to  isolate  myself,  to  live  in  loneli- 
ness, when  I  at  times  tried  to  forget  all  this,  O  how  harshly  was  I  re- 
pulsed by  the  doubly  sad  experience  of  my  bad  hearing,  and  yet  it  was 
impossible  for  me  to  say  to  men  speak  louder,  shout,,  for  I  am  deaf. 
Ah  how  could  I  possibly  admit  an  infirmity  in  the  one  sense  which  should 
have  been  more  perfect  in  me  than  in  others,  a  sense  which  I  once 
possessed  in  highest  perfection,  a  perfection  such  as  few  surely  in  my 
profession  enjoy  or  ever  have  enjoyed — O  I  cannot  do  it,  therefore  for- 
give me  when  you  see  me  draw  back  when  I  would  gladly  mingle 
with  you,  my  misfortune  is  doubly  painful  because  it  must  lead  to  my 
being  misunderstood,  for  me  there  can  be  no  recreation  in  society  of  my 
fellows,  refined  intercourse,  mutual  ex-change  of  thought,  only  just  as 
little  as  the  greatest  needs  command  may  I  mix  with  society,  I  must  live 
like  an  exile,  if  I  approach  near  to  people  a  hot  terror  seizes  upon  me,  a 
fear  that  I  may  be  subjected  to  the  danger  of  letting  my  condition  be  ob- 
served— thus  it  has  been  during  the  last  half  year  which  I  spent  in  the 
country,  commanded  by  my  intelligent  physician  to  spare  my  hearing 
as  much  as  possible,  in  this  almost  meeting  my  present  natural  disposi- 
tion, although  I  sometimes  ran  counter  to  it,  yielding  to  my  inclination 
for  society,  but  what  a  humiliation  when  one  stood  beside  rne  and  heard 
a  flute  in  the  distance  and  J  heard  nothing  or  someone  heard  the  shepherd 
singing  and  again  I  heard  nothing,  such  incidents  brought  me  to  the 
verge  of  despair,  but  little  more  and  I  would  have  put  an  end  to  my  life — 
only  art  it  was  that  withheld  me,  ah  it  seemed  impossible  to  leave  the 
world  until  I  had  produced  all  that  I  felt  called  upon  to  produce,  and  so 
I  endured  this  wretched  existence — truly  wretched,  an  excitable  bod/ 
which  a  sudden  change  can  throw  from  the  best  into  the  worst  state — 
Patience — It  is  said  I  must  now  choose  for  my  guide,  I  have  done  so,  I 
hope  my  determination  will  remain  firm  to  endure  until  it  pleases  the 
inexorable  parcae  to  break  the  thread,  perhaps  I  shall  get  better,  per- 
haps not,  I  am  prepared.  Forced  already  in  my  2 8th  year  to  become  a 
philosopher,  O  it  is  not  easy,  less  easy  for  the  artist  than  for  any  one  else 
— Divine  One  thou  lookest  into  my  inmost  soul,  thou  knowest  it,  thou 
knowest  that  love  of  man  and  desire  to  do  good  live  therein.  O  men, 
when  some  day  you  read  these  words,  reflect  that  ye  did  me  wrong  and 
let  the  unfortunate  one  comfort  himself  and  find  one  of  his  kind  who 
despite  all  the  obstacles  of  nature  yet  did  all  that  was  in  his  power  to  be 
accepted  among  worthy  artists  and  men.  You  my  brothers  Karl  and 
[Johann]  as  soon  as  I  am  dead  if  Dr.  Schmid  is  still  alive  ask  him  in  nry 


name  to  describe  my  malady  and  attach  this  document  to  the  history  of 
my  illness  so  that  so  far  as  is  possible  at  least  the  world  may  become 
reconciled  with  me  after  my  death.  At  the  same  time  I  declare  you  two 
to  be  the  heirs  to  my  small  fortune  (if  so  it  can  be  called) ,  divide  it  fairly, 
bear  with  and  help  each  other,  what  injury  you  have  done  me  you  know 
was  long  ago  forgiven.  To  you  brother  Karl  I  give  special  thanks  for  the 
attachment  you  have  displayed  toward  me  of  late.  It  is  my  wish  that 
your  lives  may  be  better  and  freer  from  care  than  I  have  had,  recom- 
mend virtue  to  your  children,  it  alone  can  give  happiness,  not  money,  I 
speak  from  experience,  it  was  virtue  that  upheld  me  in  misery,  to  it 
next  to  my  art  I  owe  the  fact  that  I  did  not  end  my  life  by  suicide — 
Farewell  and  love  each  other — I  thank  all  my  friends,  particularly 
Prince  Lichnowsky  and  Professor  Schmid — I  desire  that  the  instruments 
from  Prince  L.  be  preserved  by  one  of  you  but  let  no  quarrel  result  from 
this,  so  soon  as  they  can  serve  you  a  better  purpose  sell  them,  how  glad 
will  I  be  if  I  can  still  be  helpful  to  you  in  my  grave — with  joy  I  hasten 
toward  death — if  it  comes  before  I  shall  have  had  an  opportunity  to 
show  all  my  artistic  capacities  it  will  still  come  too  early  for  me  despite 
my  hard  fate  and  I  shall  probably  wish  that  it  had  come  later — but  even 
then  I  am  satisfied,  will  it  not  free  me  from  a  state  of  endless  suffering? 
Gome  when  thou  wilt  I  shall  meet  thee  bravely — Farewell  and  do  not 
wholly  forget  me  when  I  am  dead.  I  deserve  this  of  you  in  having  often 
in  life  thought  of  you  how  to  make  you  happy,  be  so — 


Heiglnstadt  [sic],  [seal] 

October  6th, 

For  my  brothers  Karl  and  [  Johann] 
to  be  read  and  executed  after  my  death. 

Heiglnstadt,  October  loth,  1802,  thus  do  I  take  my  farewell  of  thee — 
and  indeed  sadly — yes  that  beloved  hope — which  I  brought  with  me 
when  I  came  here  to  be  cured  at  least  in  a  degree — I  must  wholly 
abandon,  as  the  leaves  of  autumn  fall  and  are  withered  so  hope  has  been 
blighted,  almost  as  I  came — I  go  away — even  the  high  courage — which 
often  inspired  me  in  the  beautiful  days  of  summer — has  disappeared — O 
Providence — grant  me  at  last  but  one  day  of  purejVy — it  is  so  long  since 
real  joy  echoed  in  my  heart — O  when — O  when,  O  Divine  One — shall  I 
feel  it  again  in  the  temple  of  nature  and  man — Never?  no — O  that 
would  be  too  hard. 

The  most  obvious  thing  about  this  tragic  document  (which  was 
never  sent,  but  was  found  among  Beethoven's  papers)  is  his  in- 

174  MEN  °F  MUSIC 

coherent  anguish  at  the  probability  that  he  would  go  completely 
deaf.  There  would  come  a  time,  he  knew,  when  he  nevermore 
would  hear — except  within  himself — the  music  that  was  his  reason 
for  being,  a  time  when  he  would  be  cut  off  from  the  world.  Reason 
enough,  then  for  such  an  outpouring!  But  the  "Testament"  yields 
up  another,  hidden  message  tending  to  corroborate  outside  evi- 
dence that  Beethoven  was  suffering  from  syphilis.  It  is  even  pos- 
sible that  he  believed  his  deafness  to  have  resulted  from  this  dis- 
ease, and  though  this  is  by  no  means  certain,  the  mere  supposition, 
to  one  of  Beethoven's  Calvinistic  morality,  might  well  have  made 
him  feel  that  he  was  being  judged.  That  his  most  valued  sense  was 
being  taken  away  from  him  because  of  a  moral  lapse  is  an  Aeschy- 
lean concept  that  would  have  been  peculiarly  native  to  Beethoven. 

There  are  people  who  still  refuse  to  believe  that  Beethoven  had 
syphilis.  It  is  true  that  the  evidence  against  them  is  overwhelming, 
but  they  are  armored  against  evidence  by  a  traditional  belief  that 
no  great  man  could  have  had  anything  so  shameful.  The  obvious 
evidence  is  medical  and  pharmaceutical;  the  more  subtle  is  psy- 
chological, and  can  be  marshaled  under  three  general  considera- 
tions. First,  Beethoven  had  a  psychopathic  abhorrence  of  women 
whose  morals  he  considered  too  free.  This  was  violent  enough  to 
make  him  interfere  absurdly  and  without  warrant  in  his  brother 
Karl's  life.  Second,  he  fell  in  love  with  a  series  of  highborn,  al- 
legedly pure  women,  whose  social  position,  he  knew,  automatically 
made  them  unavailable  to  him.  Third,  though  he  passionately  de- 
sired marriage,  in  part  because  he  believed  that  it  would  solve  all 
his  emotional  problems,  he  never  took  a  wife.  The  argument  that 
deafness  alone  would  have  seemed  to  him  an  insuperable  bar  to 
marriage  is  simply  inadmissible. 

Beethoven's  handicaps  served  to  give  his  attachments  a  strained, 
intense  quality.  He  was  desperately  seeking  something  he  often 
found,  but  could  never  possess.  The  women  who  flicker  through 
his  life  conform  inevitably  to  one  pattern;  he  who  commanded  a 
matchless  diversity  of  style  and  mood  in  his  art  was  enthralled  by 
an  unvarying,  rather  limited  type  of  woman.  His  beloved  ones  are 
little  more  than  girls,  untouched,  fresh,  of  noble  birth — and  not 
too  intelligent.  It  is  fruitless  to  catalogue  them,  and  more  fruitless 
to  linger  over  any  of  them:  they  are  less  individuals  than  symbols, 
and  not  one  of  them  exerted  a  permanent  personal  influence  on 


Beethoven's  life.  His  love,  however,  was  by  no  means  unrequited, 
and  it  was  said  that  this  massive,  rather  uncouth  man,  with  his 
painful  awkwardness  and  social  tactlessness,  could  make  conquests 
beyond  the  charms  of  an  Adonis. 

Countless  attempts  have  been  made  to  connect  certain  of  Beetho- 
ven's compositions  with  one  or  another  of  his  infatuations.  The 
"Moonlight"  Sonata  has  been  called  a  portrait  of  his  pupil,  the 
Contessa  GiuUetta  Guicciardi,  or  of  Beethoven's  feeling  for  her. 
Certainly  it  is  dedicated  to  her.  But  the  rest  of  the  interpretation 
is  a  perfect  example  of  putting  the  cart  before  the  horse.  Beetho- 
ven's notebooks  show  that  he  was  working  on  various  ideas  used  in 
the  "Moonlight"  over  a  period  of  years.  He  happened  to  com- 
plete it  in  the  high  noon  of  his  passion  for  the  Contessa,  and  there- 
fore offered  it  to  her  as  a  suitable  gage  of  h5s  love.  On  one  occasion, 
having  dedicated  his  Rondo  in  G  (let  the  romantic  reader  note  the 
key)  to  this  same  Giulietta,  he  rededicated  it  to  Prince  Lichnow- 
sky's  sister,  a  lady  with  whom,  as  far  as  we  know,  he  was  never  in 

Art  unquestionably  springs  from  emotion,  and  there  is  no  reason 
to  suppose  that  love  has  played  a  less  significant  part  in  the  en- 
gendering of  masterpieces  than  nature  worship  or  religious  devo- 
tion, Particularization  is  the  mistake,  and  can  go  to  the  length  of 
tacking  a  True  Story  libretto  onto  a  sublime  outpouring  of  the 
spirit.  The  problem  of  ascribing  definite  subject  matter  to  music* 
is  very  difficult,  and  had  best  be  left  to  radio  script  writers. 
There  can  be  no  question,  however,  that  the  man  who  is  peren- 
nially— and  hopelessly — in  love  will  write  quite  different  music 
than  either  he  who  loves  happily  or  he  who  loves  not  at  all.  Beetho- 
ven, who  was  perennially — and  hopelessly — in  love,  said  that  his 
most  enduring  passion  lasted  only  seven  months,  and  he  moved 
from  woman  to  woman  almost  as  rapidly  as  Casanova.  But  to  com- 
pare Casanova's  callous,  sense-driven,  and  insensate  tomcat  prowl- 
ing and  Beethoven's  tortured  questing  is  to  see  in  a  flash  the  exact 
antithesis  between  degradation  and  exaltation.  Beethoven's  loves 
were  brief  because  they  could  never  be  fulfilled — like  Orpheus,  he 
searched  the  face  of  every  woman,  but  forever  vainly.  While  he 
was  in  love,  he  was  deeply  in  love.  The  agony  of  joy  and  apprehen- 

*  In  one  very  real  sense,  the  only  subject  matter  of  music  is  the  themes  from  which 
it  is  constructed. 

MEN     OF    MUSIC 

sive  fear  into  which  a  momentary  illusion  of  having  come  to  the 
end  -of  his  quest  threw  him,  lies  revealed  in  lines  almost  as  painful 
to  read  as  the  "Heiligenstadt  Testament35 — the  famous  letter  to 
the  "Immortal  Beloved": 

July  6}  in  the  morning 

My  angel,  my  all,  my  very  self— only  a  few  words  today  and  at  that 
with  pencil  (with  yours) — not  till  tomorrow  will  my  lodgings  be  defin- 
itively determined  upon — what  a  useless  waste  of  time.  Why  this  deep 
sorrow  where  necessity  speaks — can  our  love  endure  except  through 
sacrifices — except  through  not  demanding  everything — can  you  change 
it  that  you  are  not  wholly  mine,  I  not  wholly  thine-  Oh,  God!  look  out 
into  the  beauties  of  nature  and  comfort  yourself  with  that  which  must 
be — iove  demands  everything  and  that  very  justly — thus  it  is  with  me  so 
far  as  you  an  concermd,  and  you  with  me.  If  we  were  wholly  united  you 
would  feel  the  pain  of  it  as  little  as  I.  My  journey  was  a  fearful  one;  I  did 
not  reach  here  until  4  o'clock  yesterday  morning;  lacking  horses  the 
post-coach  chose  another  route — but  what  an  awful  one.  At  the  stage 
before  the  last  I  was  warned  not  to  travel  at  night — made  fearful  of  a 
forest,  but  that  only  made  me  the  more  eager  and  I  was  wrong;  the 
coach  must  needs  break  down  on  the  wretched  road,  a  bottomless  mud 
roacj — without  sucfr  postilions  as  I  had  with  me  I  should  have  stuck  in 
the  road.  Esterhazy,  traveling  the  usual  road  hitherward,  "had  the  same 
fate  with  eight  horses  that  I  had  with  four — yet  I  got  some  pleasure 
out  of  it,  as  I  always  do  when  I  successfully  overcome  difficulties.  Now  a 
quick  change  to  things  internal  from  things  external.  We  shall  soon 
surely  see  each  other;  moreover,  I  cannot  communicate  to  you  the  ob- 
servations I  have  made  during  the  last  few  days  touching  my  own  life — 
if  our  hearts  were  always  close  together  I  would  make  none  of  the  kind. 
My  heart  is  full  of  many  things  to  say  to  you — Ah! — there  are  moments 
when  I  feel  that  speech  is  nothing  after  all — cheer  up — remain  my 
true,  my  only  treasure,  my  all  as  I  am  yours;  the  gods  must  send  us  the 
rest  that  which  shall  be  best  for  us. 

Your  faithful 


Evening,  Monday,  July  6 

You  are  suffering,  my  dearest  creature — only  now  have  I  learned  that 
letters  must  be  posted  very  early  in  the  morning.  Mondays,  Thursdays — 
the  only  days  on  which  the  mail-coach  goes  from  here  to  K.  You  are 
suffering— Ah!  wherever  I  am  there  you  are  also.  I  shall  arrange  affairs 
between  us  so  that  I  shall  live  and  live  with  you,  what  a  life!!!!  thus!!!! 
thus  without  you— pursued  by  the  goodness  of  mankind  hither  and 


thither — which  I  as  little  try  to  deserve  as  I  deserve  it.  Humility  of 
man  toward  man — it  pains  me — and  when  I  consider  myself  in  connec- 
tion with  the  universe,  what  am  I  and  what  is  he  whom  we  call  the  great- 
est— and  yet — herein  lies  the  divine  in  man.  I  weep  when  I  reflect  that 
you  will  probably  not  receive  the  first  intelligence  from  me  until  Satur- 
day— much  as  you  love  me,  I  love  you  more — but  do  not  ever  conceal 
your  thoughts  from  me — good-night — as  I  am  taking  the  baths  I  must 
go  to  bed.  Oh,  God!  so  near  so  far!  Is  our  love  not  truly  a  celestial  edi- 
fice— firm  as  Heaven's  vault. 

Good  morning,  on  July  7 

Though  still  in  bed  my  thoughts  go  out  to  you,  my  Immortal  Be- 
loved, now  and  then  joyfully,  then  sadly,  waiting  to  learn  whether  or 
not  fate  will  hear  us.  I  can  live  only  wholly  with  you  or  not  at  all — yes,  I 
am  resolved  to  wander  so  long  away  from  you  until  I  can  fly  to  your 
arms  and  say  that  I  am  really  at  home,  send  my  soul  enwrapped  in  you 
into  the  land  of  spirits. — Yes,  unhappily  it  must  be  so — you  will  be  the 
more  resolved  since  you  know  my  fidelity — to  you,  no  one  can  ever 
again  possess  my  heart — none — never — Oh,  God!  why  is  it  necessary 
to  part  from  one  whom  one  so  loves  and  yet  my  life  in  W  [Vienna]  is 
now  a  wretched  life — your  love  makes  me  at  once  the  happiest  and  the 
unhappiest  of  men — at  my  age,  I  need  a  steady,  quiet  life — can  that  be 
under  our  conditions?  My  angel,  I  have  just  been  told  that  the  mail- 
coach  goes  every  day — and  I  must  close  at  once  so  that  you  may  receive 
the  L.  at  once.  Be  calm,  only  by  a  calm  consideration  of  our  existence 
can  we  achieve  our  purpose  to  live  together — be  calm — love  me — today 
— yesterday — what  tearful  longings  for  you — you — you — my  life — my- 
all— farewell — Oh  continue  to  love  me — never  misjudge  the  most  faith- 
ful heart  of  your  beloved  L. 

ever  thine 
ever  mine 
ever  for  each  other. 

The  fact  that  the  person  to  whom  this  letter  was  directed  is  not 
known  makes  it  sound  like  a  cut-and-dried  emanation  of  the  ro- 
mantic Zeitgeist.  Its  writer  shows  himself  a  true  enfant  de  siecle,  but 
though  the  letter  rightly  belongs  to  the  nineteenth  century,  it  was 
a  real  heart's  cry  intended  for  a  real  woman,  and  so  escapes  the 
emotional  boundaries  of  a  particular  era.  Hundreds  of  pages  of 
fine  type  have  been  devoted  to  more  or  less  ingenious  guesses  as 
to  the  identity  of  this  "Immortal  Beloved."  Was  she  the  Contessa 
Giulietta?  Was  she  the  Contessa's  cousin,  Therese  von  Brunswick? 

178  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Was  she  Goethe's  admired  friend,  Bettina  Brentano  von  Arnim? 
Or  was  she  any  one  of  a  dozen  others?  The  answer  is  still  anybody's 

Despite  the  evidence  of  the  "Heiligenstadt  Testament"  and  the 
letter  to  the  "Immortal  Beloved/'  it  is  a  mistake  to  think  of  Beetho- 
ven in  a  constant  state  of  hopeless  despair  or  amorous  excitement. 
Until  within  a  few  years  of  his  death,  he  continued  to  lead  a  more 
or  less  normal  existence,  going  much  into  society  and  passing  many 
happy  hours  with  his  ever-widening  circle  of  friends.  His  eccen- 
tricities and  frequent  boorishness  were  interpreted  as  the  concomi- 
tants of  genius,  not  as  the  willful  posturing  of  a  mountebank.  He 
attained  a  certain  equilibrium  through  his  abounding  vitality  and 
broad  sense  of  humor.  Without  gorging  or  sousing,  he  enjoyed  the 
pleasures  of  the  table  as  much  as  any  man.  But  his  surest  way  of 
relief  was  a  ramble  in  the  country,  for  he  loved,  almost  worshiped, 
nature.  Finally,  there  was  always  the  magic  solace  of  composition. 
Beethoven  is  a  perfect  textbook  exemplar  of  the  modern  theory 
that  creation  is  in  part  the  sublimation  of  otherwise  unrelieved 
emotion.  If  this  is  always  kept  in  mind,  it  can  serve  to  fill  out  the 
seeming  eventlessness  of  his  biography,  which  from  early  in  the 
century  is  little  more  than  the  story  of  his  creative  activity. 

But  the  story  of  Beethoven's  creative  activity  is  not  without  snares 
and  pitfalls.  We  are  so  used  to  thinking  of  an  artist's  development 
as  proceeding  at  equal  pace  in  all  the  forms  he  handles  that  Beetho- 
ven jolts  our  entire  preconceived  scheme.  And  any  scheme  we  have 
is  further  complicated  by  the  division  of  his  works  into  three  peri- 
ods, suggested  by  early  critics  and  more  or  less  adhered  to  ever 
since.  The  dry  but  astute  Vincent  d'Indy  aptly  labeled  these  peri- 
ods "imitation,  externalization,  and  reflection."  It  would  indeed 
be  handy  if  we  could  tabulate  Beethoven's  compositions  under 
these  three  headings,  and  then  find  that  column  one  ended  at  such 
and  such  a  date,  and  so  on.  Unfortunately.,  this  is  impossible.  Not 
only  do  these  divisions  merge  imperceptibly,  but  as  Beethoven's 
method  was  one  of  trial  and  error,  and  as  he  came  to  some  forms 
later  than  others,  we  often  find  simultaneously  composed  works 
that  are  in  quite  different  stages  of  his  development.  For  instance, 
the  Piano  Concerto  in  C  minor  belongs  to  the  same  year  (1800)  as 
the  C  major  Symphony.  But  the  concerto  was  his  third,  the  sym- 
phony his  first;  the  symphony,  clearly  "imitation,"  is  tentative. 


afraid  of  the  personal.  The  C  minor  Concerto,  just  as  clearly  "ex- 
ternalization,"  is  assured  and  self-assertive.  The  sure  vigor  of  the 
first  movement,  the  exquisitely  made  largo,  with  its  hesitant,  medi- 
tative rhythms,  and  the  rushing,  pell-mell  rondo,  with  its  abrupt 
yet  artistically  satisfying  coda — here,  at  last,  is  Beethoven  in  ma 

When  the  C  minor  Concerto  was  first  performed  at  a  public 
concert  on  April  5,  1803,  a  new  symphony — the  Second,  in  D 
major — was  also  on  the  program.  Here,  certainly,  were  two  works 
on  different  levels  of  self-realization,  though  it  may  be  doubted 
whether  even  the  many  connoisseurs  in  the  audience  recognized 
this  fact.  They  were  so  shocked  by  the  unbridled  vivacity  and  brio 
of  the  last  two  movements  of  the  symphony  that  they  failed  to  see 
that  it  was  still  essentially  a  classical  product,  while  the  more  mas- 
sive and  individual — but  somehow  quieter — concerto  was  really 
much  more  advanced.  Not  that  the  D  major  is  by  any  means  in- 
significant: the  larghetto  is  among  the  most  exquisite  of  slow  move- 
ments, Mozartian  in  its  purity  of  line,  but  richer  in  texture  and 
mellower  in  color;  the  coda  of  the  finale  is  no  perfunctory  perora- 
tion; rather,  it  is  a  considered  comment  on  material  previously 
heard  in  the  movement.  Judged  by  the  vast  architectonics  of  later 
codas,  it  sounds  rather  stereotyped,  and  must,  in  the  final  analysis, 
hold  its  place  as  a  kind  of  inspired  blueprint  of  things  to  come. 

The  Second  Symphony,  compared  with  the  First,  shows  exactly 
the  normal  development  one  would  expect  of  a  composer  who 
works  earnestly  at  his  job.  If  the  distance  between  these  two  is 
fixed  at  a  mile,  that  between  the  Second  and  Third  must  be  fixed 
at  a  light-year.  The  Third  Symphony  is  one  of  those  monumental 
achievements  that  at  first  leave  one  so  bewildered  that  the  im- 
mediate impulse  is  to  find  some  measuring  rod  that  will  make  them 
seem  more  approachable.  In  the  case  of  Beethoven's  Symphony  in 
E  flat  major,  which  surpasses  all  previous  symphonies  in  length,  it 
is  somehow  comforting  to  know  that  it  can  be  performed  in  forty- 
six  minutes  under  a  conductor  with  a  thorough  understanding  of 
the  composer's  intentions  and  a  nice  interpretation  of  his  tempo 
marks.  Further,  though  the  stature  of  the  Third  can  never  be  re- 
duced to  intimate  proportions,  it  brings  it  somewhat  nearer  to  re- 
alize that  its  mighty  effects  are  produced  by  the  same  orchestra 

l8o  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Beethoven  had  used  previously,  augmented  by  a  single  additional 

It  is  hard  to  describe  a  work  on  which  so  many  superlatives  have 
been  lavished.  Bernard  Shaw  said  that  the  first  movement  should 
be  played  by  giants  led  by  a  demigod.  Which  is  another  way  of 
saying  that  the  grandeur  of  this  allegro  makes  one  involuntarily 
think  of  superhuman  strength  as  the  only  motive  power  for  such 
an  enterprise.  The  second  movement  is  a  march — possibly  the 
most  solemn  and  fitting  funeral  music  ever  written — fitting,  that 
is,  at  the  funeral  of  a  genius:  it  would  dwarf  a  smaller  man.  In  the 
scherzo,  the  classical  minuet,  which  in  Haydn's  hands  had  begun 
to  outgrow  its  court  clothes,  finally  comes  of  age  in  an  outburst 
of  tempestuous  joy  suddenly  and  mysteriously  deadened  in  the 
threatening  drumbeats  of  the  coda.  The  finale  is  excessively  com- 
plicated, and  abounds  in  mysteries  of  form  to  which  no  man  may 
boast  the  key.  Briefly,  it  is  a  series  of  free  variations  on  a  theme 
from  Beethoven's  own  Prometheus  music,  interrupted  by  a  fugue 
and  topped  off  by  a  very  lengthy  coda.  Rivers  of  ink  have  been 
spilled  in  the  war  over  its  merits.  Some  of  the  imputed  formlessness 
of  romantic  music  has  entered  here:  those  who  like  the  finale  either 
take  the  formlessness  in  their  stride  or  claim  to  find  in  it  an  esoteric 
design  that  was  never  used  again;  those  who  dislike  the  finale  say 
that  they  do  so  because  it  is  formless.  There  can  be  little  doubt, 
however,  that  with  all  its  inherent  beauties,  it  falls  short  of  being 
a  perfect  culmination  to  the  three  preceding  movements. 

The  Third  Symphony  is  evolved  out  of  unpromising  and,  in 
many  instances,  quite  un-Beethovian  material.  But  the  develop- 
ment is  so  rich  and  unexpected  that  the  commonplaceness  of  the 
themes  is  discoverable  only  by  close  analysis,  and  it  is  in  this  pre- 
eminent grasp  of  the  resources  and  subtleties  of  elaboration  that 
the  E  flat  marks  a  tremendous  advance  not  only  in  Beethoven's 
career,  but  in  the  entire  history  of  music.  The  result  here  is  some- 
thing so  epic  that  it  would  be  necessary  to  call  it  "Eroica"  even  if 
no  hero  had  been  in  Beethoven's  mind  while  he  was  writing  it. 
But  the  root  inspiration  for  the  "Eroica"  actually  did  come  from 
something  outside  the  realm  of  music:  it  was  originally  intended, 
when  Beethoven  began  sketching  it  in  the  late  nineties,  as  a  paean 
to  Napoleon,  who  at  that  time  seemed  the  very  incarnation  of  the 
liberal  ideals  of  the  French  Revolution.  He  had  hardly  finished 


composing  it  when  he  learned  that  the  Corsican  had  crowned  him- 
self Emperor  of  the  French.  In  a  rage,  he  tore  the  name  of  the 
fallen  idol  from  the  title  page.  The  symphony  now  celebrates  "the 
death  of  a  great  man/5  but  in  1821,  when  Beethoven  heard  of 
Napoleon's  death,  he  declared,  "I  have  already  written  the  music 
for  that  catastrophe." 

Beethoven  outraged  convention  by  introducing  a  funeral  march 
into  a  symphony,  but  it  was  not  his  first  offense  of  the  kind.  Some 
years  before,  in  the  A  flat  major  Sonata  (Opus  26),  by  all  odds  the 
most  characteristic  he  had  yet  written,  the  third  movement  is  a 
somberly  grand  andante  entitled  "Funeral  March  on  the  Death 
of  a  Hero."  The  A  flat  major  is  further  remarkable  for  the  theme 
and  variations  with  which  it  begins,  for  in  these  Beethoven  goes 
far  beyond  the  scope  of  earlier  uses  of  this  device:  the  variations 
have  a  free,  improvisatorial  quality,  though  they  still  grow  out  of 
the  theme  rather  than  out  of  one  another  as  Brahms'  variations  do. 
But  this  free,  improvisatorial  quality  should  not  be  misconstrued: 
it  is  never  haphazard,  always  planned,  always  under  control. 
Beethoven  had  arrived  at  the  point  where  it  was  necessary  for  him 
to  modify  and  expand  already  existing  forms  so  they  could  hold 
his  ideas,  rather  than  compress  his  ideas  to  fit  the,  to  him,  cramped 
dimensions  of  the  forms  Mozart  and  Haydn  had  used  so  easily  and 
with  such  brilliant  success.  Both  his  next  two  sonatas  (Opus  27,  i 
and  2),  for  example,  he  marked  "quasi  una fantasia"  which  is  no 
idle  tag:  they  retain  only  a  few  formal  essentials  of  the  old  classical 
sonata,  and  take  off  into  the  unknown  whenever  the  composer  feels 
that  his  material  requires  it.  The  second  of  the  pair  is  the  all-too- 
famous  "Moonlight"  Sonata,  with  its  unfortunate  first  movement 
— an  adagio  sostenuto  which  must  once  have  been  hauntingly 
lovely,  but  has  been  played  dry.  It  tends  to  linger  in  the  memory, 
and  numb  us  to  the  sprightly  charm  of  the  allegretto  and  the  large 
dimensions  and  fine  architecture  of  the  presto. 

Among  the  three  sonatas  of  Opus  31,  composed  while  Beethoven 
was  hard  at  work  molding  the  "Eroica"  the  second  is  one  of  his 
most  magical  evocations.  There  is  not  an  uninspired  note  in  it, 
but  it  needs  a  Walter  Gieseking  to  reveal  its  passionate  vitality.  It 
is  put  together  like  a  drama:  the  first  movement,  with  its  agitated 
and  frequently  changed  tempos,  and  its  passages  of  almost  spoken 
soliloquy;  the  meditative,  intensely  personal  monologue  of  the  slow 

l82  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

movement;  the  fleet,  galloping  onrush  of  the  denouement  (among 
the  most  sheerly  clever  music  Beethoven  ever  composed) — -these 
are  the  perfectly  related  acts  of  an  inevitable  and  compelling  dra- 
matic sequence.  The  third  of  Opus  31  does  not  communicate  itself 
so  readily  as  the  second — of  somewhat  mixed  character,  it  has  less 
structural  inevitability.  This  gives  a  tentative  quality  to  a  work  of 
much  melodic  beauty. 

In  1804,  before  abandoning  the  sonata  for  some  years,  Beethoven 
composed  two  of  his  most  brilliant  virtuoso  pieces.  The  "Wald- 
stein"  and  "Appassionata"  have  with  reason  been  favored  by  con- 
cert pianists,  and  both  have  sure-fire  qualities  that  recommend 
them  just  as  positively  to  their  audiences.  The  first  of  these,  dedi- 
cated to  Beethoven's  old  Bonn  friend,  is  structurally  simple:  an 
energetic  allegro  (longer  than  many  a  complete  earlier  sonata) 
leads  through  a  brief,  poignant  adagio  into  what  is  possibly  Beetho- 
ven's most  celebrated  rondo.  The  three  movements  are  rather  like 
a  storm,  calm  under  a  still-lowering  sky,  and  then  sunlight.  The 
last  is  aerial  in  its  loveliness  and  bright  transparency,  and  Beetho- 
ven never  wrote  a  more  memorable  melody  to  project  exaltation. 
The  "Appassionato?"  has  been  made  to  carry  a  lot  of  pseudophilo- 
sophical  baggage,  Beethoven  having  begun  the  mystification  by 
saying,  "Read  Shakespeare's  Tempest"  when  questioned  about  its 
meaning.  This  is  excellent  literary  advice,  but  may  be  nothing 
more  than  a  red  herring  as  far  as  this  sonata  is  concerned.  The  first 
movement,  after  some  sullen  ruminations,  bursts  out  in  a  wild  and 
prolonged  Byronic  fury,  and  ends  in  mutterings  that  leave  us  with 
the  ominous  feeling  that  worse  is  yet  to  come;  the  explosion  is 
delayed  by  a  few  pages  of  exquisite  and  tragic  resignation,  which 
are  suddenly  broken  into — there  is  a  warning  lull,  and  then  a  rat- 
a-tat-tat  of  harsh  chords  fortissimo;  the  third  movement,  begin- 
ning quietly,  gathers  anger  and  speed,  rages  hysterically,  and  ends 
in  an  orgy  of  musical  fist-shaking. 

The  "Waldstein"  and  the c< 'Appassionato?*  opened  up  a  new  world 
of  sound.  They  could  not  have  been  conceived  for  the  clavier  or 
the  first  pianos,  and  they  still  tax  the  resources  of  the  modern 
concert  grand.  In  them,  Beethoven  came  to  the  full  realization 
that  the  piano  is  a  percussion  instrument. 

The  year  1804  is  even  more  important  as  marking  the  probable 
beginning  of  Beethoven's  only  opera,  Fidelio*  He  had  been  com- 


missioned,  possibly  as  early  as  1803,  by  Mozart's  last  impresario, 
Emamiel  Schikaneder,  to  compose  an  opera  for  his  Theater  an  der 
Wien.  Before  Beethoven  delivered  any  manuscript,  Schikaneder 
failed,  and  his  rival,  Baron  Braun,  director  of  the  Hoftheater, 
took  over  the  lease,  and  also  renewed  Beethoven's  contract. 
Josef  Sonnleithner,  the  secretary  of  the  Hoftheater,  a  cultivated 
but  uninspired  man,  supplied  a  libretto  that  fulfilled  the  com- 
poser's stringent  and  stuffy  demands  as  to  moral  unimpeach- 
ability and  lofty  tone.  It  is  a  story  of  conjugal  love  triumphant 
tinder  the  most  harrowing  circumstances  of  the  Terror — evidently, 
however,  nothing  was  stipulated  about  literary  excellence.  Bee- 
thoven was  so  enchanted  with  the  idea  of  setting  its  noble  message 
that  it  was  years  before  he  was  fully  aware  of  the  absurdities  of  the 
plot.  Meanwhile,  he  had  worked  fervently,  shuffled  and  reshuffled 
thousands  of  sketches  for  its  original  three  acts,  had  probably  com- 
posed one  overture,  discarded  it,  and  composed  another,  and 
finally  produced  it,  with  Vienna  full  of  a  French  army  of  occupa- 
tion who  could  not  understand  the  German  words  of  its  Spanish 
plot  (the  scene  had  been  shifted  to  Spain  for  reasons  of  state),  on 
November  20,  1805.  It  played  for  three  successive  nights,  and  was 
a  complete  failure. 

Beethoven's  friends  were  in  despair:  they  wanted  to  save  the 
opera,  and  finally  prevailed  on  him  to  authorize  certain  revisions, 
Stephan  von  Breuning,  whose  intimacy  with  the  composer  dated 
back  to  Bonn,  was  entrusted  with  reducing  the  three  acts  to  two, 
and  making  textual  revisions.  Equipped  with  a  new  overture — the 
magnificent  "Leonora"  No.  3 — the  opera  showed  signs  of  a  small 
success,  but  was  withdrawn  by  Beethoven  after  a  quarrel  with  the 
impresario.  It  lay  on  the  shelf  until  1814,  when  he  again  radically 
overhauled  the  score,  and  Georg  Friedrich  Treitschke,  the  noted 
dramatist,  performed  an  equally  serious  operation  on  the  text. 
This  time,  Fidelia  took  Vienna  by  storm,  and  was  selected  to  open 
the  next  season  at  the  Hofoper. 

Fidelio  (or,  as  it  was  called  until  1814,  Leonora}  is  known  by  its 
overtures  to  millions  who  have  never  heard  a  note  of  it  sung.  The 
four  overtures  constitute  a  neat  little  problem.  The  least  played, 
and  least  effective,  is  the  "Leonora"  No.  i.  It  may  well  have  been 
written  first,  though  there  is  a  theory  that  it  was  composed  in  1807 
for  a  special  performance  that  never  came  off;  there  is  no  evidence 

184  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

that  it  was  ever  played  during  Beethoven's  lifetime.  The  "Le- 
onora" No.  2  was  used  at  the  actual  premiere,  "Leonora"  No.  3  at 
the  r8o6  performances.  The  former  is  superb  in  many  respects, 
highly  dramatic  in  effect,  but  lacking  the  absolutely  perfect  pro- 
portions of  No.  3.  Besides,  the  working  out  of  its  middle  section  is 
rather  dry  and  academic.  No.  3  uses  some  themes  from  No.  2,  but 
develops  them  on  a  grander  scale  and  on  an  even  loftier  plane. 
The  entire  overture,  and  more  particularly  the  new  material,  is 
treated  with  an  unexampled  brilliance  that  has  served  largely  to 
make  "Leonora"  No.  3  the  most  popular  of  Beethoven's  overtures 
— in  effect,  a  kind  of  symphonic  poem  or  tenth  symphony  in  one 
movement.  But  though  No.  3  is  an  impressive  advance  over  No.  2 
from  a  sheerly  musical  point  of  view,  it  is  ruinous  as  an  introduc- 
tion to  the  opera.  "The  trouble  with  'Leonora'  No.  3,"  as  Tovey 
says,  "is  that,  like  all  great  instrumental  music  from  Haydn  on- 
wards, it  is  about  ten  times  as  dramatic  as  anything  that  could 
possibly  be  put  on  the  stage."  Beethoven  himself  undoubtedly 
came  to  realize  this,  for  in  1814  he  composed  still  one  more  over- 
ture— the  so-called  "Fidelio."  This  light,  generally  cheerful  piece 
is  an  excellent  curtain-raiser  for  the  rather  trivial  matter  of  the 
first  scenes,  and  is  still  used  to  open  the  opera.  As  performed  at  the 
Metropolitan,  Fidelio  interposes  "Leonora"  No.  3  between  the  first 
and  second  scenes  of  Act  II,  for  all  the  world  like  a  gigantic 
Mascagni  intermezzo.  We  owe  this  favor  to  the  dramatic  sapience 
of  Gustav  Mahler. 

Fidelio  is  a  comic  opera  with  an  excessive  amount  of  gloom  in 
the  middle  sections.  It  begins  with  some  broad  vaudeville  clown- 
ing and  closes  on  a  conventional  happy  ending.  A  more  per- 
functory story  cannot  be  imagined,  and  to  save  the  situation 
Beethoven  expanded  the  character  of  Leonora,  the  heroic  wife, 
until  she  bestrides  the  entire  opera  like  a  colossus.  Her  temporary 
sufferings  (which  have  a  way  of  seeming  endless)  almost  persuade 
us  that  the  drama  is  a  tragic  masterpiece.  It  is  for  her  that  Bee- 
thoven wrote  the  "Leonora"  No.  3,  and  it  is  for  her  that  he  de- 
signed the  most  effective  vocal  music.  The  rest  of  the  characters 
are  so  puppetlike  and  undifferentiated  that  the  best  that  can  be 
said  of  their  music  is  that  the  villain  Pizarro  gets  passages  express- 
ing Beethoven's  moral  indignation  at  his  character,  while  the  hero 
Florestan  is  made  to  sing  music  that  just  as  clearly  expresses 


sympathy  with  his  patiently  borne  tribulations.  Beside  these  straw 
men,  Leonora  seems  as  real  as  Carmen.  As  far  as  the  opera  as  a 
whole  is  concerned,  not  much  of  its  dramatic  effectiveness  would 
be  lost  in  a  truncated  performance  that  would  consist  of  "Leonora" 
No.  3  followed  by  the  heroine's  great  scena,  "Abscheulicher,  wo  eilst 
du  hin?"  If  the  man  whom  Beethoven  transfigured  in  the  "Eroica** 
could  only  have  been  Leonora's  mate,  what  an  opera  this  might 
have  been! 

All  sorts  of  loyal  excuses  have  been  advanced  to  prove  that 
Beethoven  was  a  great  composer  for  the  stage.  The  truth  is  that  he 
was  a  great  dramatic  musician — one  of  the  greatest  of  all  time,  in 
fact — but  he  completely  lacked  a  sense  of  the  stage.  Drama,  in  the 
deepest  sense,  he  fully  understood;  stage  business  was  beyond,  or 
beneath,  him.  Treitschke's  notes  on  the  1814  version  of  Fidelia 
furnish  eloquent  proof  of  Beethoven's  complete  ineptitude  in  this 
respect.  An  age  that  can  afford  to  neglect  Iphigenie  en  Tauride  does 
well  to  neglect  Beethoven's  only  opera. 

Beethoven  did  not  devote  1805  exclusively  to  working  on  Fidelio. 
That  same  year,  he  began  sketching  what  eventually  became  the 
Fifth  Symphony,  as  well  as  the  first  of  the  three  quartets  dedicated 
to  Count  Rasoumovsky,  and  what  is  probably  the  finest  of  his 
piano  concertos — that  in  G  major.  The  Fourth  Concerto  has  al- 
ways been  overshadowed  by  the  grandiose  effect  of  the  Fifth,  It 
declined  in  popularity  even  during  Beethoven's  lifetime,  and  was 
not  rescued  from  oblivion  until  1836,  when  Mendelssohn  played 
it  at  a  concert  in  Leipzig.  It  is  baffling  to  explain  why  it  has  not 
always  been  one  of  Beethoven's  most  popular  large  compositions, 
for  it  yields  to  none  of  the  others  in  immediacy  of  appeal.  It  is  in- 
gratiating, intimate  as  few  large  works  are.  Although  it  does  not 
offer  virtuosos  such  an  excellent  chance  to  show  off  as  the  Fifth,  it 
is  flawlessly  constructed,  original  in  detail,  and  inspired  in  melody. 
Beethoven  makes  history  by  opening  the  concerto  with  a  statement 
of  the  principal  theme  by  the  solo  instrument,  and  then,  with  the 
use  of  a  minimum  of  subsidiary  matter,  subjects  the  theme  to  one 
of  the  most  subtle  and  complex  developments  in  the  entire  course 
of  music.  Not  one  of  the  least  triumphs  of  this  use  of  the  whole 
armory  of  technique  is  that  the  result  does  not  sound  even  re- 
motely pedantic.  The  second  movement  is  a  dialogue  between  the 
orchestra  and  the  piano.  Liszt  compared  it  to  Orpheus  taming  the 

l86  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

beasts,  probably  because  the  gentle,  supplicating  solo  instrument 
finally  wins  over  the  myriad  voices  of  the  orchestra.  At  which 
point  the  rondo  begins  pianissimo,  gradually  working  into  a 
boisterous  rush  varied  by  a  transitional  theme  of  broad,  singing 
character,  utterly  romantic,  almost  Schumannesque  in  feeling. 

It  is  particularly  interesting  to  compare  the  Fourth  Concerto 
with  the  Fifth,  in  E  flat  major.  Although  written  four  years  later, 
this  last  of  Beethoven's  piano  concertos  is  much  less  arresting  and 
generally  less  interesting  musically.  The  name  "Emperor"  was 
tacked  onto  it  some  years  after  its  composition — but  not  by  Bee- 
thoven. It  is  possible  to  justify  this  nickname  by  the  rather  pom- 
pous, grandiloquent  character  of  the  first  and  third  movements — 
evidently  this  "Emperor"  was  a  Roman.  The  first  movement,  with 
its  beautiful  and  certainly  malleable  theme,  is  developed  impres- 
sively, but  at  such  great  length  that  it  ends  by  seeming  too  long — 
one  place  where  Beethoven's  "astronomical  punctuality"  was  not 
on  time.  The  adagio,  however,  for  all  its  air  of  improvisation,  ranks 
high  among  Beethoven's  profound  meditations,  and  is  the  real 
glory  of  the  "Emperor."  It  shades  insensibly,  and  by  a  stroke  of 
sheer  magic,  into  a  triumphant  rondo  that  is  a  fitting  culmina- 
tion to  a  virtuoso's  holiday.  With  all  deference  to  this  rather 
breath-taking  work,  it  is  to  be  hoped  that  a  day  will  come  when 
the  phrase  "Beethoven  piano  concerto"  will  not  inevitably  mean 
the  "Emperor." 

•  In  1806,  the  Emperor  (and  in  those  days  only  one  Emperor  was 
in  everyone's  mind)  was  lowering  over  Austria  and  the  German 
states  like  a  great  storm,  doing  a  thorough  job  of  unsettling  lives. 
Beethoven's  was  no  exception,  though  he  went  right  on  working  at 
a  couple  of  symphonies  and  the  "Rasoumovsky"  Quartets.  In 
October,  he  visited  Prince  Lichnowsky  at  his  Silesian  estate,  and 
found  French  officers  quartered  there.  This  in  itself  was  enough  to 
upset  him,  but  when  the  Prince  half-jokingly  threatened  to  lock 
him  up  if  he  refused  to  play  for  them,  Beethoven  forced  his  way 
out,  and  returned  to  Vienna  in  a  rage.  Arrived  home,  the  first 
thing  he  did  was  to  smash  a  bust  of  Lichnowsky.  He  soon  cooled 
down  sufficiently  to  focus  his  energies  on  a  piece  he  had  promised 
to  complete  before  Christmas.  Accordingly,  on  December  23,  the 
new  work,  unrehearsed  because  he  had  just  completed  it,  was  pre- 
sented during  a  singular  program.  Its  first  movement  was  a  feature 


of  the  opening  half  of  the  entertainment,  and  the  second  and  third 
movements  were  given  during  the  second  half.  Intervening  was, 
among  other  compositions,  a  sonata  by  Franz  Clement,  played  on 
one  string  of  a  violin  held  upside  down.  Clement  was  also  the 
soloist  in  the  Beethoven,  playing  his  part  at  sight. 

The  composition  so  inauspiciously  introduced  was  the  D  major 
Violin  Concerto,  and  it  is  surely  no  wonder  that,  produced  under 
these  circumstances,  it  was  a  failure.  It  was  at  once  pronounced 
insignificant,  and  went  immediately  into  exile  from  the  concert 
hall.  Its  failure  may  have  deterred  Beethoven  from  ever  compos- 
ing another  violin  concerto.  Many  years  after  his  death,  Joseph 
Joachim,  whose  cadenzas  have  since  become  an  almost  integral 
part  of  the  concerto,  resuscitated  it,  and  helped  it  to  a  popularity 
that  has  never  waned,  beside  the  likewise  unique  essays  in  this 
form  by  Mendelssohn,  Tchaikovsky,  and  Brahms.  With  that 
"colossal  instinct"  which  so  often  moved  him  when  he  was  pioneer- 
ing, Beethoven  created  in  a  single  try  music  a  large  part  of  whose 
beauty  depends  on  its  peculiar  fitness  for  the  violin,  and  its  sensi- 
tive balancing  of  the  timbres  and  volumes  of  solo  instrument  and 
orchestra.  He  expanded  the  scope  of  the  violin  concerto  and,  with- 
out losing  sight  of  the  fact  that  he  was  writing  for  a  virtuoso, 
produced  something  without  a  trace  of  empty  show. 

The  Concerto  in  D  is  almost  deceptively  quiet,  and  its  melodies 
are  in  themselves  close  to  undistinguished.  There  is  a  minimum  of 
ornamentation,  except  in  the  seldom  fitting  cadenzas  that  virtuosos 
have  written  for  the  second  and  third  movements.  The  beauty  of 
the  Violin  Concerto  lies  deep,  and  for  many  performers  is  not 
get-at-able:  tone,  not  display,  is  its  secret.  It  has  been  said  from 
time's  beginning  that  a  performer  must  bring  some  profound 
understanding  to  his  task.  Nowhere  is  this  more  true  than  in  the 
Concerto  in  D.  Throughout  the  first  two  movements,  the  soloist  is 
given  the  rarest  opportunities,  for  in  them  Beethoven  has  woven 
unpromising  melodies  into  an  incomparably  rich  and  varied  tonal 
fabric  that  quite  transforms  them.  Only  the  rondo  thwarts  the 
performer,  for  even  Beethoven's  infinite  resourcefulness  was  balked 
by  the  essential  banality  of  its  principal  theme. 

In  1806,  no  less  than  three  symphonies  lay  in  Beethoven's  work- 
shop in  various  stages  of  development.  Of  these,  the  Fourth,  in 
B  flat  major,  was  completed  toward  the  end  of  the  year,  and  was 

l88  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

first  performed  the  following  spring.  The  Fifth,  in  G  minor,  and 
the  Sixth,  in  F  major,  were  both  finished  in  1808,  and  were  per- 
formed together  on  December  22  of  that  year.  This  all-Beethoven 
program  also  included  the  scena  for  soprano,  "Ah!  perfido"  sections 
of  a  Mass  composed  for  the  Esterhazy  family,  an  extempore  fantasy 
on  the  piano — and  the  premieres  of  the  Choral  Fantasy  and  the  C 
major  Piano  Concerto!  Everything  was  wretchedly  performed 
(there  had  been  no  complete  rehearsal  of  any  of  the  works),  the 
Theater  an  der  Wien  was  ice-cold,  and  the  program  lasted  four 
hours.  In  addition  to  being  a  physical  trial  to  the  audience,  it  be- 
came embarrassing  when  the  performers  broke  down  in  the  middle 
of  the  Choral  Fantasy  because  Beethoven  had  given  them  a  wrong 
cue.  All  was  calculated  to  send  the  audience  home  in  a  state  of 
mingled  awe  and  rage.  Beethoven,  however,  insisted  that  he  had 
merely  wanted  to  give  them  their  money's  worth. 

Fortunately,  the  rather  delicate  Symphony  in  B  flat  major 
had  made  its  debut  in  a  comparatively  light  program — consisting 
of  the  first  four  symphonies — less  than  three  hours  long.  Thus  it 
was  born  in  the  shadow  of  the  "Eroica"  where,  despite  its  own 
sufficing  beauties,  it  has  remained  ever  since.  There  is  a  myth  that, 
after  the  First  and  Second,  Beethoven's  even-numbered  sym- 
phonies are  inferior  to  the  odd-numbered.  The  truth  is  that  the 
odd-numbered  ones  are  epic,  the  even-numbered  lyric.  It  is  almost 
as  if  after  each  of  his  cosmic  labors,  the  titan  had  to  play.  The 
Fourth  scales  no  Himalayan  peaks,  wins  no  victories,  but  to  con- 
ceive of  it  as  made  up  of  inferior  stuff  is  to  commit  an  egregious 
error  of  judgment.  No  symphony  has  more  exquisite  proportions, 
and  one  would  have  to  go  to  Mozart  to  match  its  sheer  delicious- 
ness.  The  mysterious  introduction,  with  its  promise  of  something 
important  about  to  happen,  has  often  been  invested  with  a  deep 
significance  that  makes  far  too  much  of  what  it  really  is — a  prelude 
to  mischief.  The  cantabile  is  like  an  infinitely  tender  savoring  of 
happiness,  and  is  touched  with  that  slight  tinge  of  melancholy  en- 
gendered by  a  realization  that  of  all  things  happiness  is  the  most 
evanescent.  The  minuet  is  a  charming  dance,  and  the  finale, 
which  one  musical  pontiff  damned  as  "too  light/5  is  actually  just 
light  enough — witty  and  swift  exegesis  on  the  classical  allegro  of 
Haydn  and  Mozart.  It  is  all  as  easy  to  listen  to  as  folk  melody,  and 


is  the  product  of  a  technique  that  commanded  the  resources  of 
the  entire  past. 

The  Fifth  is  the  best  known  and  best  loved  of  Beethoven's  nine 
symphonies — therefore  the  best  known  and  best  loved  of  all 
symphonies.  The  reasons  for  its  outstanding  popularity  are  not  far 
to  seek:  its  comparative  simplicity  reduces  the  listener's  difficulties 
to  a  minimum;  the  music  is  never  dull,  it  is  spirited  and  eloquent — 
and  it  is  Beethoven  all  the  way.  In  short,  it  is  excellent  entertain- 
ment, in  the  best  sense  of  the  word.  The  renowned,  almost  notori- 
ous, and  in  themselves  undistinguished  four  notes  that  open  the 
symphony  with  a  defi,  lead  into  four  "movements  of  the  most 
eminently  whistleable  music  ever  composed.  And  it  is  a  fact  that 
thousands  of  people  who  say  that  they  abhor,  or  "do  not  under- 
stand," classical  music,  go  about  whistling  parts  of  the  Fifth 
Symphony.  It  is  definitely  not  a  work  around  which  a  fence  can  be 
built:  it  belongs  to  the  whole  world,  and  this  obvious  fact  has  made 
enemies  for  it  among  those  musical  snobs  who  delight  in  fencing 
off  the  great  masterpieces,  and  marking  them  "Private  Property." 

It  is  too  bad  that  we  cannot  share  the  emotions  of  those  who 
listened  to  the  C  minor  Symphony  when  it  was  new.  It  was  the 
Sacre  duprintemps  of  the  early  nineteenth  century,  and  seems  to  have 
affected  its  listeners  violently.  The  operatic  composer  Lesueur 
told  Berlioz,  "It  has  so  upset  and  bewildered  me  that  when  I 
wanted  to  put  on  my  hat,  I  couldn't  find  my  head."  The  years 
have  taken  from  the  Fifth  Symphony  only  one  thing — this  power- 
ful novelty.  But  we  can  still  revel  in  the  resilient,  athletic  rhythms 
of  the  first  movement,  with  its  brief  contrasting  moments  of 
melodic  questioning.  The  second  movement,  an  andante  with 
variations,  is  more  studied,  yet  it  sings  along  freely  and  with  en- 
chanting grace.  The  third  movement  is  one  of  the  most  effective 
of  all  scherzos,  from  the  ominous  first  theme  (favored  as  burglar 
music  by  pianists  in  the  days  of  the  silent  movies)  to  the  subdued 
but  still-lowering  close,  which  leads  without  interruption  into  the 
finale.  This  scherzo  is  notable  for  a  rare  bravura  passage  for  sup- 
pressed bass-violin  virtuosos,  wherein  Beethoven  shows  a  kinship 
to  Rabelais  in  an  episode  of  bumbling  and  sardonic  humor.  It  was 
undoubtedly  in  the  finale  that  M.  Lesueur  lost  his  head — certainly 
it  was  here,  after  the  repeated  warnings  of  the  scherzo,  that  Bee- 
thoven broke  loose.  The  symphony  ends  in  a  rout  of  victorious 


energy,  to  which  the  reappearance  of  parts  of  the  scherzo  adds  a 
note  of  terrible  piquancy.  The  superabundance  of  ideas  and  the 
diabolic  pace  are  still  breath-taking,  and  it  is  not  surprising  that 
Ludwig  Spohr,  the  same  pontiff  who  had  found  the  finale  of  the 
Fourth  "too  light/5  condemned  this  finale  as  "an  orgy  of  vulgar 

The  Sixth,  or  "Pastoral/'  Symphony  is,  with  the  piano  sonata 
known  as  "Les  Adieux"  one  of  the  few  extended  compositions  that, 
by  his  own  confession,  Beethoven  built  around  a  program.  Now,  it 
is  quite  true  that  certain  composers,  notably  Debussy  and  Richard 
Strauss,  wrote  some  of  their  best  work  under  the  stimulus  of  a 
program.  It  is  equally  true  that  a  program,  when  used  merely  as  a 
point  of  departure,  rather  than  slavishly  followed,  liberated  their 
imaginations:  for  them  it  was  like  a  catalytic  agent  that  effected 
the  magic  rapport  between  them  and  their  material.  But  a  pro- 
gram seems  actually  to  have  limited  Beethoven,  and  neither  of  his 
large  program  pieces  belongs  with  his  best  work.  We  can  but 
wonder  at  the  staying  power  of  the  "Pastoral"  Symphony,  which 
should  long  ago,  as  Edward  J.  Dent  pointed  out  with  his  customary 
brutal  frankness,  have  been  retired  to  the  shelf.  There  are  plenty  of 
"good  things"  in  it — but  alas!  they  are  technical  excellences  that 
would  be  inevitable  in  any  mature  work  of  Beethoven's.  Most  of 
the  "Pastoral"  is  plain  dull,  and  one  can  only  suspect  that  those 
who  help  by  their  applause  to  keep  it  in  the  repertoire  really  de- 
light in  the  birdcalls,  the  rippling  brook,  and  the  storm  rather  than 
in  the  basic  themes  and  their  development.  Fortunately,  it  is 
possible  to  enjoy  Beethoven  and  the  country  separately  without  en- 
joying them  together  within  the  confines  of  the  F  major  Symphony. 

The  "Pastoral"  was  completed  and  first  performed  amid  the 
alarums  of  another  onslaught  against  Austria  by  Napoleon.  Before 
hostilities  were  renewed,  however,  Beethoven  (whose  efforts  to  find 
official  employment  in  Vienna  had  proved  vain)  received  an  at- 
tractive offer  from  Jerome  Bonaparte,  King  of  Westphalia,  to 
become  his  Kapellmeister  at  CasseL  For  a  time  he  entertained  seri- 
ously the  idea  of  emigrating,  and  what  finally  dissuaded  him  seems 
to  have  been,  not  patriotism,  but  abhorrence  of  the  reputedly  lax 
morals  of  Jerdme's  court.  The  rumor  that  Beethoven  might  leave 
Vienna  struck  consternation  into  the  hearts  of  his  noble  patrons. 
Three  of  them — the  Princes  Lobkowitz  and  Kinsky,  and  his  pupil 


and  newly  found  friend,  the  youthful  Archduke  Rudolf— put  then- 
heads  together,  and  decided  to  offer  him  a  yearly  income  from 
their  own  purses  if  he  would  promise  to  remain.  This,  with  a  small 
annuity  he  had  been  receiving  from  Prince  Lichnowsky  since  1800, 
might  have  added  enough  to  his  earnings  from  the  publication  of 
his  music  to  make  his  life  an  easy  one.  Unfortunately,  war  was  de- 
clared in  April,  1809,  and  ^e  value  of  Austrian  currency  was 
immediately  cut  in  half. 

Beethoven  decided  to  remain  in  Vienna  during  the  war,  but  the 
approach  of  the  French  meant  that  the  imperial  family  had  to  flee. 
The  composer  was  sincerely  attached  to  the  Archduke  Rudolf,  and 
mourned  his  departure  and  absence  in  the  first  two  movements  of 
the  second  of  his  extended  program  pieces — the  E  flat  major  Piano 
Sonata  (Opus  810);  he  wrote  a  third  movement  early  in  1810  to 
celebrate  the  Archduke's  return.  By  far  the  most  effective  part  of 
the  Sonata  "Les  Adieux"  is  the  first  movement,  with  its  ingenious 
development  of  the  introductory  three  notes  over  which  Beethoven 
wrote  the  word  "Le-be-wohl!"  which,  as  he  angrily  complained, 
was  a  far  more  tender  and  intimate  word  than  the  formal  French 
expression  his  publishers  substituted.  It  may  be  said  of  this  sonata 
that  though  it  was  deeply  felt,  its  program  inhibited  the  com- 
poser's finest  flights  of  creative  imagination.  Certainly,  it  is  far  in- 
ferior to  the  small  but  poignant  F  sharp  major  Sonata  (Opus  78), 
composed  somewhat  earlier.  Beethoven  himself  went  on  record  as 
preferring  the  F  sharp  to  the  even-in-his-time  overplayed  "Moon- 
light," which  it  strongly  resembles  in  mood  though  not  in  structure. 

There  was  a  seeming  lull  in  Beethoven's  activity  until  late  in 
1813,  when  the  Seventh  Symphony  was  first  performed.  The 
interim  was  taken  up  with  a  number  of — for  him — relatively  small 
projects.  Despite  his  now  almost  unbearable  deafness,  he  was  going 
so  assiduously  into  society  that  he  complained  of  no  I6nger  having 
time  to  be  with  himself.  After  the  death  of  Haydn  in  1809,  Bee- 
thoven  was  unquestionably  the  most  eminent  of  living  composers, 
and  therefore  one  of  the  principal  sights  of  the  town.  In  May,  1810, 
he  met  Bettina  Brentano,  then  but  twenty-five  years  old,  but  al- 
ready started  on  her  self-chosen  career  as  Goethe's  Aspasia.  He 
promptly  fell  as  hopelessly  in  love  with  her  as  she  had  fallen  in  love 
with  Goethe.  Doubtless,  her  enthusiasm  further  stimulated  what 
was  to  prove  his  lifelong  devotion  to  the  poet.  In  the  same  year,  he 


set  several  of  Goethe's  poems  and  completed  an  overture  and  inci- 
dental music  to  Egmont,  Goethe's  drama  of  the  ill-fated  champion 
of  Flemish  liberties  against  the  Spaniards.  The  incidental  music 
has  vanished  somewhere  behind  the  gates  of  horn  and  ivory,  but 
the  overture  has  held  its  own  quite  as  triumphantly  as  that  to 
Coriolanus.*  Like  the  tremendous  "Leonora"  No.  3,  each  of  these 
overtures  crystallizes  the  essence  of  the  drama  as  Beethoven  felt 
it.  It  seems  inconceivable  that  this  noble  and  profoundly  realized 
music  will  ever  be  crowded  from  the  repertoire.  Incidentally,  the 
overture  to  Egmont  concludes  with  an  electrifying  fanfare  for  the 
brass  that  actually  echoes  the  trumpet  flourishes  the  Duke  of  Alva 
ordered  so  as  to  drown  out  Egmont's  last  speech.  Here  Beethoven 
wrote  with  inflammatory  eloquence  what  might  have  been  a  mere 
perfunctory  effect — the  lion  of  aristocratic  Vienna  had  found  a 
program  that  liberated  him. 

In  1811,  Beethoven  met  a  man  who  was  destined  to  exercise  a 
mixed  influence  on  his  music.  This  was  Johann  Nepomuk  Malzel, 
the  renowned  inventor  of  the  "metronome,  and  the  contriver  of 
many  curious  machines  for  making  music.  Beethoven  at  first  took 
to  him  with  a  kind  of  innocent  fervor.  During  1812,  while  he  was 
busy  writing  the  Seventh  and  Eighth  Symphonies,  he  spent  much 
time  with  Malzel,  and  they  even  planned  to  tour  England  to- 
gether. Simultaneously,  the  inventor  was  perfecting  his  metronome, 
and  in  July,  at  what  was  originally  planned  as  a  farewell  dinner, 
Beethoven  and  his  friends  toasted  the  machine  in  a  round  that 
parodied  its  monotonous  ticking.  This  was  later  used  in  the  alle- 
gretto of  the  Eighth  Symphony.  But  their  plans  changed:  his 
brother  Karl  was  so  ill  that  Beethoven  was  afraid  to  leave  Austria, 
and  he  himself  was  in  such  wretched  health  that  he  went  to  take 
the  waters  of  various  Bohemian  spas,  where  he  also  hoped  to  al- 
leviate his  deafness. 

At  Toplitz,  where  the  royalty  and  haute  noblesse  of  Europe  con- 
gregated, Beethoven  first  met  Goethe.  They  held  each  other  in 
high  esteem,  but  got  on  each  other's  nerves.  Goethe,  supreme  poet 
and  philosopher  though  he  was,  stood  aside,  hat  in  hand,  as  his 
royal  friends  passed.  Beethoven  was  enraged  by  such  conduct. 
Bettina  Brentano  von  Arnim  attested  that  he  "with  folded  arms 
walked  right  through  the  dukes  and  only  tilted  his  hat  slightly 

*  By  one  H.  J.  von  Collin,  not  Shakespeare. 


while  the  dukes  stepped  aside  to  make  room  for  him,  and  all 
greeted  him  pleasantly;  on  the  other  side  he  stopped  and  waited 
for  Goethe,  who  had  permitted  the  company  to  pass  by  him  where 
he  stood  with  bowed  head.  'Well/  he  said,  'I've  waited  for  you  be- 
cause I  honor  and  respect  you  as  you  deserve,  but  you  did  those 
yonder  too  much  honor."5  As  for  Goethe,  he  commented  dryly, 
"His  talent  amazed  me;  unfortunately  he  is  an  utterly  untamed 
personality,  not  altogether  wrong  in  holding  the  world  to  be  de- 
testable, but  who  does  not  make  it  any  the  more  enjoyable  either 
for  himself  or  others  by  his  attitude.55 

Before  leaving  for  the  spas,  Beethoven  had  finished  the  Seventh 
Symphony;  the  Eighth  he  completed  at  Linz  in  the  fall  while  on  a 
visit  to  his  brother  Johann.  This  was  by  no  means  a  pleasure  trip: 
he  had  heard  that  Johann  was  mixed  up  with  a  loose  woman,  and 
he  spent  much  time  trying  to  persuade  him  to  mend  his  morals  and 
his  taste.  Failing,  he  had  recourse  to  the  religious,  civil,  and  penal 
authorities,  and  succeeded  in  driving  Johann  into  marriage  with 
the  disreputable  creature.  He  returned  to  Vienna  in  a  fury,  and 
seems  to  have  brooded  himself  into  inactivity  during  the  winter. 
In  May,  1813,  he  went  to  Baden,  near  Vienna,  and  it  was  there, 
while  making  a  last  despairing  attempt  to  find  a  cure  for  his  deaf- 
ness, that  news  reached  him  of  Wellington5 s  overwhelming  defeat 
of  Joseph  Bonaparte5s  troops  at  Vitoria. 

Malzel  had  also  heard  the  news,  and  his  shrewd  commercial 
mind  was  already  busy  with  its  possibilities  for  a  musician  who  was 
really  on  his  toes.  With  the  English  market  in  view,  he  asked  Bee- 
thoven to  write  a  battle  piece  for  one  of  his  musical  machines. 
Malzel,  who  seems  to  have  had  the  mind  of  a  modern  advertising 
man,  counted  on  the  popularity  of  Wellington,  the  fame  of  Bee- 
thoven, the  novelty  of  his  Panharmonicon,  and  the  patronage  of 
the  Prince  Regent,  which  was  to  be  secured  by  an  effulgent  dedica- 
tion. Beethoven  fell  in  with  the  scheme  with  childish  delight.  Ac- 
cordingly, after  various  false  starts  and  alterations  in  plan,  he  pro- 
duced the  notorious  composition  known  as  Wellington's  Victory,  or 
the  Battle  of  Vittoria  [sic],  also  occasionally  called  the  "Battle55 
Symphony.  Meanwhile  the  Austrians  and  their  allies  had  defeated 
Napoleon  at  Leipzig,  and  Malzel  saw  that  his  market  had  thus 
been  shifted  to  Vienna.  The  piece  was  already  all  set  for  the  Pan- 
harmonicon; he  now  persuaded  Beethoven  to  orchestrate  it,  and 

194  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

have  it  performed  at  one  of  the  many  charity  concerts  being 
planned  for  the  survivors  of  the  last  campaign.  He  shrewdly 
foresaw  that  it  would  take  the  town  by  storm,  and  that  once  its 
popularity  was  established,  it  would  coin  money  for  the  Pan- 

In  its  appeal,  Wellington's  Victory  far  surpassed  Malzel's  wildest 
dreams.  Vienna  responded,  not  enthusiastically,  but  deliriously, 
and  Beethoven,  already  the  most  famous  of  living  composers,  found 
himself,  after  its  premiere  on  December  8,  1813,  the  most  popular  as 
well.  It  seems  unlikely  that  calling  the  piece  the  Battle  of  Leipzig 
would  have  added  a  single  leaf  to  his  laurels.  Besides,  the  fact  that 
between  artillery  charges  and  cannon  shots  the  only  music  to  be 
heard  was  Britannia  Rules  the  Waves,  Malbrouck  s'en  va-t-en  guerre, 
and  God  Save  the  King  provided  three  insuperable  obstacles  to  a 
patriotic  change  of  title.  Some  faint  conception  of  this  atrocious 
potboiler — unquestionably,  as  the  late  Hendrik  Willem  van  Loon 
said,  the  worst  trash  ever  signed  by  a  supreme  genius — may  be 
achieved  by  imagining  a  mixture  of  the  "1812"  Overture  (with 
real  cannon)  and  Ernest  Schelling's  A  Victory  Ball  (with  rattling 
bones,  offstage  bugle,  and  bagpipes  full  orchestra  fff}* 

Almost  lost  amid  the  tumult  and  the  shouting  was  the  new  work 
that  began  the  concert  of  December  8 — the  Seventh  Symphony. 
Yet  it  was  well  liked  (the  allegretto  was  encored),  and  its  popu- 
larity has  grown  until  it  rivals  that  of  the  Fifth — there  are  signs  that 
it  may  soon  outstrip  its  overplayed  competitor,  f  The  Seventh  is  in 
some  respects  the  most  glorious  of  all  symphonies,  and  is  quite 
as  accessible  to  the  lay  listener  as  the  Fifth.  Its  characteristics  are 
even  more  readily  discernible:  its  rhythms  are  so  varied  and  em- 
phatic that  Wagner  called  it  the  "apotheosis  of  the  dance35;  it 
is  joyful  music  made  transcendent  by  a  vastness  of  plan  more 
usually  reserved  for  tragic  utterance;  finally,  it  glows  with  orches- 

*  Battle  pieces  were  inordinately  popular  during  the  late  eighteenth  and  early 
nineteenth  centuries.  The  most  famous  of  them  before  Beethoven's  time  was  The 
Battle  of  Prague  by  Franz  Koczwara,  whose  only  other  claim  to  fame  is  that  he 
hanged  himself  in  a  London  brothel. 

fThe  1938  poll  of  favorite  compositions  requested  by  the  patrons  of  WQXR,  a 
New  York  radio  station  devoted  chiefly  to  the  broadcasting  of  serious  music,  showed 
Beethoven's  Fifth  Symphony  in  first  place,  the  Seventh  in  second.  The  Fifth  was  re- 
quested in  23.9  per  cent  of  all  letters  received,  the  Seventh  in  18.3  per  cent.  Tchai- 
kovsky's Fifth  Symphony  was  in  third  place,  with  16.5  per  cent.  Beethoven's  Ninth, 
Third,  and  Sixth  were  respectively  fourth,  sixth,  and  twelfth  in  the  tabulation. 


tral  color.  This  does  not  mean,  of  course,  that  color  was  a  new 
thing  in  music—rMozart's  E  flat  Symphony  boldly  experimented 
with  the  instrumental  palette — but  here,  for  the  first  time,  color 
became  recognizably,  undeniably,  one  of  the  prime  elements  of 
esthetic  design,  in  its  way  as  important  as  melody,  harmony,  and 
rhythm.  The  subtle,  nervous  use  of  varying  volume,  with  an  in- 
tuitive grasp  of  the  protean  thing  it  can  be,  provides  a  chiaroscuro 
to  match  the  almost  Venetian  splendor  of  the  instrumental 

The  A  major  Symphony  is  remarkable  in  its  complete  freedom 
from  those  perfunctory  connective  passages  and  stereotyped  de- 
vices that  even  the  greatest  of  composers  have  indulged  in.  It  starts 
with  supreme  confidence,  and  this  endures  until  the  very  last  bar 
of  the  finale.  Never  was  Beethoven's  genius  more  fecund,  never 
more  exuberant.  The  largeness  of  the  introduction  sets  the  stage 
for  a  work  of  heroic  proportions,  and  leads  up  to  an  audacious  ex- 
cursion into  pure  rhythm,  which  at  the  verge  of  monotony  is 
salvaged  by  one  of  the  most  alluring  melodies  ever  written.  The 
second  movement  is  the  peerless  allegretto — a  stately  dance  whose 
insistent  rhythm  carries  the  curious  burthen  of  alternate  melan- 
choly and  triumph.  Once  heard,  its  melodies  can  never  be  for- 
gotten. The  scherzo  races  along  to  the  trio,  rests  there  during 
moments  of  supernal  peace,  and  resumes  its  headlong  flight.  The 
finale  is  a  reminder  that  Beethoven  was  a  Fleming — it  is  a  broad 
and  clamorous  kermis  (Tovey's  description  of  it  as  cca  triumph  of 
Bacchic  fury"  is  intolerable  geography:  it  is  no  more  Greek  than 
Breughel) . 

The  fate  of  the  Eighth  Symphony  proves  that  even  the  greatest 
of  geniuses  cannot  stretch  and  relax  with  impunity.  When  it  was 
introduced,  on  February  27,  1814,  it  was  inevitably  compared  with 
the  Seventh,  which  preceded  it  on  the  program,  and  pronounced 
small,  old-fashioned,  and  unworthy  of  the  master.  These  strictures 
merely  amused  Beethoven,  who  said  dryly  that  it  was  not  liked  as 
well  as  the  Seventh  because  it  was  better.  Now,  it  is  possible  to  in- 
terpret this  reply  as  mere  perversity,  but  there  is  stronger  reason  to 
suspect  that  it  was  largely  serious.  In  short,  Beethoven  implied 
that  it  was  the  measure  of  his  greatness  that  after  rearing  the 
mighty  structures  of  the  Seventh  Symphony  he  had  successfully 
created  something  as  gay  and  epigrammatic  as  the  Eighth.  But  the 

196  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

public  was  not  interested  in  his  recreations ,  and  -his  temerity  in 
introducing  the  F  major  on  the  heels  of  the  Seventh  almost  resulted 
in  its  complete  eclipse.  When  it  was  played,  the  allegretto  of  the 
Seventh  was  often  unfeelingly  injected  into  it  as  a  drawing  card. 
Even  today,  though  it  stands  on  its  own  merits,  the  Eighth  is  not 
one  of  the  most  popular  of  Beethoven's  symphonies.  The  first  three 
movements  are  definitely  light,  but  never  lightweight,  and  show 
what  Beethoven  could  do  as  late  as  1812  with  the  classical  idiom  of 
Haydn  and  Mozart.  It  is  more  than  a  little  ironical  that  the  al- 
legretto of  the  Seventh  should  have  been  used  to  salvage  a  sym- 
phony that  already  boasted  one  of  the  most  delightful  allegrettos 
ever  composed.  Had  Haydn  heard  the  ticking  of  Malzel's  metro- 
nome he  might  very  well  have  parodied  it  in  this  same  delightful 
fashion.  But  once  the  fourth  movement  begins,  all  bets  are  off,  and 
the  "little  symphony"  (Beethoven's  own  words)  gradually  expands 
into  a  spacious  essay  on  the  dynamics  of  pure  joy  and  godlike 
laughter.  There  are  those  who  feel  that  this  increase  in  scale  over- 
balances the  rest  of  the  symphony.  Certainly  it  lacks  the  flawless 
design  of  the  Fourth,  for  example,  but  this  should  not  prevent  any- 
one from  taking  delight  in  the  beauty  of  the  separate  movements 
which,  moreover,  cohere  by  the  pervading  joyousness  of  the 

In  the  spring  of  1814,  after  the  successful  revival  of  Fidelia, 
Beethoven  was  at  the  height  of  his  worldly  career,  and  for  a  year 
and  a  half  he  was  sustained  on  a  dizzy  peak  of  eminence  and  popu- 
larity. Events  conspired  to  make  him  for  this  brief  season  the  ob- 
ject of  more  adulation  from  personages  of  exalted  rank  than  has 
ever  fallen  to  the  lot  of  any  other  composer.  On  November  i,  with 
Bonaparte  safely  immured  on  Elba,  the  Congress  of  Vienna  con- 
vened to  restore  the  status  quo  ante  bellum,  and  Vienna  swarmed 
with  half  the  royalty  and  nobility  of  Europe.  Beethoven  received 
invitations  to  all  social  events  of  any  importance,  and  everywhere 
he  was  honored  as  a  lion,  yielding  precedence  only  to  the  Allied 
sovereigns  and  Talleyrand.  The  Austrian  government  now  allowed 
him  the  use  of  the  two  halls  of  the  Redoutensaal  for  a  series  of  con- 
certs, and  he  himself  sent  invitations  to  the  sovereigns  and  other 
great  dignitaries.  Six  thousand  people  were  packed  into  the  halls 
at  the  first  concert,  and  more  than  half  that  number  at  the  second. 
The  financial  results  of  these  and  other  concerts  were  most  gratify- 


ing,  and  Beethoven  was  able  to  Invest  considerable  sums  in  bank 
shares.  Yet,  even  in  the  midst  of  his  triumphs,  he  must  have  been 
much  troubled — and  considerably  isolated — by  his  ever-increasing 
deafness,  which  that  same  spring  had  forced  him  to  abandon  en- 
semble playing  forever. 

The  year  1815  opened  promisingly  enough,  for  Beethoven's  suits 
against  the  heirs  of  Prince  Kinsky,  and  against  Prince  Lobkowitz, 
for  defaulting  on  his  pension  were  finally  settled  in  his  favor,  and 
without  impairing  his  relations  with  those  distinguished  families. 
Now  the  agreement  of  1809  was  once  more  substantially  in  effect: 
the  Archduke  Rudolf  continued  to  pay  his  share,  and  this,  with  the 
other  two  shares,  seemed  to  assure  Beethoven  an  annual  income  of 
3400  florins  until  his  death.  He  was  going  to  need  that — and  more. 

From  the  earliest  days  of  his  affluence,  Beethoven  had  become 
embroiled  in  complicated  money  arrangements  with  his  brothers, 
particularly  Karl,  who  had  managed  some  of  his  dickerings  with 
music  publishers.  Certain,  of  Beethoven's  friends  believed  not  only 
that  his  brothers  were  taking  advantage  of  him,  but  that  Karl,  to 
whom  he  had  lent  large  sums,  was  actually  dishonest.  Stephan  von 
Breuning  took  it  upon  himself  to  warn  him  against  KarPs  weak 
financial  morals.  The  result  was  to  align  Beethoven  more  than 
ever  on  the  side  of  the  accused,  and  to  cause  a  rift  of  more  than 
ten  years  in  his  friendship  with  Von  Breuning.  This  was  a  severe 
blow,  for  only  the  year  before  death  had  separated  him  from  his 
beloved  patron,  Prince  Lichnowsky.  And  now,  in  November,  1815, 
an  even  heavier  blow;  Karl  van  Beethoven  died,  leaving  a  widow 
whom  the  composer  thoroughly  detested,  and  a  nine-year-old  son 
whose  guardianship  he  shared  with  the  mother. 

Beethoven  immediately  transferred  to  his  nephew  Karl  all  the 
blind  affection  he  had.felt-for  the  father.  On  the  other  hand,  his 
dislike  of  the  widow  was  so  violent  and  neurotic  that  he  made  every 
effort  to  keep  her  (whom  he 'extravagantly  termed  the  "Queen  of 
the  Night")  from  taking  any  part  in  her  son's  education.  The 
conflict  between  these- two.  strong- willed  people  dragged  on  for 
several  years,  with  mother  and  uncle  in  alternate  possession  of  the 
boy.  At  last,  on  January  7,  1820,  Beethoven  was  declared  sole 
guardian.  The  results  of  this  legal  war  were  deleterious  to  all 
parties  concerned:  the  widow  was  permanently  embittered;  young 
Karl,  after  being  the  ball  in  this  weird  game  of  battledore  and 


shuttlecock,  grew  up  a  thoroughly  maladjusted  young  man  whose 
tragic  inability  to  cope  with  life  darkened  his  uncle's  last  years; 
finally,  Beethoven,  in  the  full  vigor  of  his  creative  powers,  had  the 
productivity  of  four  years  gravely  curtailed.  Even  at  this  late 
date,  it  seems  only  fair  to  make  a  plea  for  the  poor  nephew  who 
has  been  so  ridiculously  blackened  by  many  of  Beethoven's 
biographers.  At  an  age  when  he  needed  a  normal  family  back- 
ground, he  had  to  live  either  with  a  mother  who  was  none  too 
good  or  with  an  uncle  whose  deafness  and  difficult  temperament 
made  him  positively  an  unfit  companion  for  a  child.  No  wonder, 
then,  that  Karl,  who  seems  to  have  been  nothing  more  sinister 
than  a  poor  booby,  made  a  mess  of  his  life,  contracting  enormous 
debts  he  could  not  meet,  making  a  feeble  attempt  at  suicide,  and 
finally  escaping  into  the  obscurity  of  a  private's  berth  in  the  army. 

On  November  16,  1815,  the  very  day  after  his  brother  Karl's 
death,  Beethoven  had  received  the  freedom  of  the  City  of  Vienna, 
an  honor  that  made  him  thenceforth  tax-exempt.  He  appeared 
occasionally  in  public  to  conduct  various  performances  of  his 
works,  but  went  less  and  less  into  society.  His  deafness  had  become 
all  but  complete.  Late  in  1816  he  was  further  cast  down  by  the 
death  of  Prince  Lobkowitz,  though  the  almost  simultaneous  ar- 
rival of  a  handsome  grand  piano — a  tribute  from  the  English 
maker,  Broadwood — somewhat  buoyed  him  up.  Multitudinous 
worries  and  a  series  of  minor  ailments  served  to  interrupt  the  flow 
of  large  orchestral  pieces  that  had  not  only  made  him  the  idol  of 
musical  Europe,  but  had  placed  an  ample  income  at  his  disposal. 
The  death  of  Lobkowitz  reduced  his  annual  pension  by  seven 
hundred  florins,  and  for  the  first  time  in  years  he  was  hard  pressed. 
It  was  not  until  1823  that  he  was  able  to  complete  two  large  works 
that  would  not  only  improve  his  financial  position,  but  would  also 
consummate  his  fame. 

The  small  works  that  were  the  chief  fruits  of  the  decade  before 
1823 — five  of  the  most  stupendous  piano  sonatas  ever  written — 
were  unfortunately  not  likely  to  win  their  audience  at  once.  With 
them,  Beethoven  entered  his  third  period,  which  was  characterized 
by  an  idiom  that  for  a  long  time  was  not  only  thought  difficult  to 
understand,  but  in  certain  quarters  was  actually  interpreted  as  a 
falling-off  of  his  powers.  Some  modern  critics  stiU  resent  the  fact 
that  Beethoven  used  so  advanced  a  musical  language  almost  a 


century  before  their  graphs  of  musical  development  show  that 
anyone  could  arrive  at  it.  Briefly,  the  most  recognizable  elements  of 
this  new  style  are  a  vast  increase  in  size  and  scope,  and  the  use 
of  elaborate  contrapuntal  devices.  These  sonatas  are  the  most 
truly  serious  and  profoundly  thought-out  works  ever  written  for 
the  piano — they  are  symphonies  for  a  solo  instrument. 

The  world  had  to  wait  almost  ten  years  after  the  Eighth  Sym- 
phony to  hear  Beethoven's  only  great  orchestral  work  in  his  third 
manner — the  "Choral"  Symphony.  There  was  no  comparable 
pause  between  the  E  minor  Sonata  (Opus  90)  and  that  in  A  major 
(Opus  101),  which  ushered  in  the  last  five  sonatas.  Opus  90, 
though  mainly  an  unpretentious  work  glowing  with  romantic 
feeling,  contains  hints  of  the  new  elements  Beethoven  was  prepar- 
ing to  introduce  into  the  sonata.  Less  than  two  years  later,  they 
showed  themselves  well  abloom.  Opus  101  opens  with  a  decep- 
tively lyrical  passage,  but  soon  sacrifices  the  more  superficial 
aspects  of  its  singing  style  to  what  can  almost  be  called  a  com- 
mentary thereon,  characterized  by  intense  concentration  of  bar- 
to-bar  development.  Here,  in  this  first  movement,  we  can  examine 
at  leisure  the  very  articulations  of  this  strange  third  style  which 
can  be  analyzed  rigorously  and  yet  remain  baffling.  Possibly  the 
simplest  way  of  explaining  it  is  to  say  that  Beethoven  finally  evolved 
an  exact  musical  language  for  expressing  the  hidden  sources  of 
the  emotions.  It  is  a  language  of  ellipses  and  compressions,  and 
demands  unwavering  attention  if  it  is  to  be  understood.  The  evolu- 
tion of  this  idiom  was  no  pedantic  feat.  It  grew  naturally  from  an 
overpowering  need:  it  was  the  only  medium  Beethoven  could  use 
to  convey  the  most  important  and  complex  ideas  he  ever  had. 

The  five  sonatas  of  this  group  have  as  palpable  a  family  re- 
semblance as  Mozart's  last  three  symphonies.  They  are  of  varying 
lengths,  even  (be  it  admitted)  of  varying  degrees  of  success.  But 
every  one  of  them — well,  not  quite  every  one — has  miraculous 
unity.  The  exception  is  that  veritable  "red  giant"  of  the  musical 
universe — the  * 'Hammerk lavier"  Sonata,  in  B  flat  major  (Opus  106). 
The  "Hammerklavier"  is  too  long,  and  at  some  point  in  every  move- 
ment its  great  poetry  fades  into  the  listless  scientific  prose  of  the 
experimentalist.  In  fact,  if  this  were  the  last  of  Beethoven's  sonatas, 
its  prolixity,  its  not  infrequent  dullness,  and  its  almost  gaseous 
diffuseness  might  justifiably  be  explained  by  his  deafness.  But  the 

200  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

"Hammerklavier"  was  composed  in  1818,  and  was  followed  by  three 
sonatas  that  are  unquestioned  masterpieces.  The  lyrical  E  major 
(Opus  109)  found  Beethoven  more  sensible  about  the  exigencies 
of  space,  and  more  realistic  about  his  audiences.  The  A  flat  major 
(Opus  no)  is  positively  genial  in  its  accessibility:  it  is  almost  as 
easy  to  listen  to  as  the  great  sonatas  of  the  second  period.  Every 
part  of  it  is  of  "heavenly"  length:  Beethoven  never  showed  more 
tact  than  when  he  dictated  the  exquisite  proportions  of  the  adagio, 
and  was  never  more  apt  in  recapturing  the  vitality  of  an  almost 
spent  form  than  in  the  robust  fugue.  The  last  sonata,  in  C  minor 
(Opus  1 1 1)3  is  indeed  the  end  that  crowns  the  work — a  majestic 
farewell  to  a  musical  form  whose  full  powers  he  had  been  the  first 
to  call  forth.  From  the  first  notes  of  the  cosmic  defi  that  introduces 
the  maestoso  to  the  last  light-saturated  strophes  of  the  arietta 
Beethoven  proves  himself  music's  greatest  thaumaturge.  In  the 
realm  of  musical  history,  it  is  not  easy  to  be  dogmatic,  but  it  may 
be  affirmed  positively  that  Beethoven  here  set  the  limits  of  the 
piano  sonata.  No  other  composer  has  even  remotely  approached 
it  in  amplitude  of  conception,  perfection  of  design,  vigor  of  move- 
ment, and  lightness  of  detail. 

But  Opus  1 1 1  was  not  Beethoven's  farewell  to  the  piano.  He  had 
an  even  more  gigantic  work  up  his  sleeve,  the  circumstances  of 
whose  conception  were  fated  to  produce  a  monstrosity.  Anton 
DiabeUi,  a  music  publisher,  sent  a  banal  waltz  of  his  own  composi- 
tion to  fifty  different  composers  (including  little  Franz  Liszt),  ask- 
ing each  to  contribute  a  variation  on  it.  Beethoven,  in  a  burst  of 
bravado,  himself  wrote  thirty-three  variations  on  the  silly  little 
theme,  and  exhausted  most  possibilities  of  the  variation  form, 
the  resources  of  the  piano,  and  the  patience  of  his  audience.  The 
"Diabelli"  Variations  are  Beethoven's  Kunst  der  Fuge:  they  are 
played  as  infrequently,  are  as  invaluable  as  textbook  examples, 
and,  despite  scattered  beauties,  are  supportable  in  performance 
only  to  experts. 

While  Beethoven  was  completing  his  last  great  sonatas,  he  was 
also  at  work  on  a  solemn  High  Mass  to  be  used  at  the  installation 
of  his  friend  Archduke  Rudolf  as  Archbishop  of  Olmiitz.  He  began 
the  Mass  in  1818,  and  worked  feverishly  at  it  through  the  summer 
of  that  year  and  the  »next.  But  it  was  far  from  ready  when  the 
Archbishop  was  consecrated  early  in  1820,  and  Beethoven  did  not 


finish  it  until  almost  three  years  had  passed.  On  February  27, 
1823,  he  was  able  to  announce  that  he  had  completed  the  Missa 
Solennis.  It  had  been  intended  for  Cologne  Cathedral,  with  whose 
vast  interior  Beethoven  had  been  familiar  as  a  child;  actually  it  was 
first  heard  in  St.  Petersburg,  at  a  private  performance  financed 
by  Prince  Nikolai  Galitzin.  The  date  was  April  6,  1824,  and 
Vienna  did  not  hear  it  until  a  month  later,  and  then  only  in  an 
absurdly  truncated  form,  with  Beethoven  conducting.  It  was 
neglected  during  the  few  remaining  years  of  his  life,  and  its  place 
in  the  repertoire  dates  from  its  resurrection  by  Heinrich  Dorn, 
Schumann's  teacher,  for  the  Rhenish  Music  Festival  of  1844.  ^' 
though  it  has  remained  a  concert  favorite  on  the  Continent,  it  is 
doubtful  that  even  there  it  has  ever  been  completely  performed  as 
part  of  a  church  service. 

Like  the  B  minor  Mass,  the  Missa  Solennis  is  unthinkable  as 
liturgical  accompaniment:  it  would  dwarf  rather  than  enhance 
the  rite.  It  is  ironical  that  two  of  the  greatest  of  all  composers  used 
the  service  of  the  Roman  Catholic  Church  for  the  creation  of  works 
so  formidable  in  size  that  the  Church  cannot  take  advantage  of 
them.  Both  of  these  masterpieces  require  such  lavish  batteries  of 
performers  that  even  as  concert  works  they  can  be  presented 
adequately  only  at  festivals  or  by  the  most  generously  endowed  of 
metropolitan  orchestras  and  choral  groups.  But  here  the  resem- 
blance between  these  Masses  ends:  the  Lutheran  Bach,  the  simple 
town  cantor,  wrote  incomparably  the  more  reverential  one; 
Beethoven,  the  merely  perfunctory  Catholic,  carrying  the  load  of 
doubt  engendered  by  the  intellectual  and  social  turmoil  of  the  late 
eighteenth  century,  approached  the  very  words  of  the  Mass  in  a 
spirit  Anton  Rubinstein  stigmatized  as  criticizing  and  disputa- 
tious. Beethoven's  ever-immanent  faith  was  in  the  heroic  poten- 
tialities of  mankind,  and  that  was  the  faith  whose  triumph  he  had 
hymned  in  his  great  secular  works.  He  went  right  on  composing 
magnificent  music  when  he  turned  to  a  sacred  text,  but  his  search- 
ing point  of  view  was  not  deflected  by  the  character  of  the  subject 
matter.  It  is  little  wonder,  then,  that  his  illustrations  of  the  liturgy 
fail  to  carry  that  conviction  of  an  all-embracing  faith  in  the  tradi- 
tional Trinity  which  shines  forth  from  the  masterpiece  of  the  trans- 
parently devout  Bach. 

Musicians,  except  for  Beethoven's  most  unquestioning  idolaters, 

2O2  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

find  the  Missa  Solennis  just  as  hard  a  nut  to  crack  as  does  the 
orthodox  believer.  Throughout,  it  is  subtly  and  nobly  conceived, 
and  informed  by  a  musical  imagination  at  its  healthiest  and  most 
daring.  Again  and  again  it  rises  to  climaxes  of  incredible  power 
and  beauty.  But  it  rises,  alas!  with  a  forgetfulness  of  the  limitations 
of  the  human  voice  that  reduces  some  of  Beethoven's  grandest 
ideas  to  magnificent  might-have-beens.  For  example,  the  gigantic 
fugue,  "Et  mtam  venturi"  that  comes  at  the  end  of  the  Credo  is  per- 
fect on  paper,  but  never  comes  fully  to  life  in  performance.  Paul 
Bekker  has  argued  that  the  fault  lies  with  the  singers:  he  says  that 
they  are  lazy,  careless,  incompetent.  Although  singers  rarely  de- 
serve any  defense,  here  is  one  place  where  common  sense  easily 
takes  the  stand  in  their  behalf.  Just  as  Beethoven,  finally  immured 
in  his  tower  of  deafness  precisely  when  his  musical  ideas  were  be- 
coming incomparably  elaborate,  well-nigh  metaphysical,  had 
written  for  the  piano  music  that  became  less  and  less  pianistic,  so  in 
the  Missa  Solennis  he  wrote  music  that  is  truly  unvocal — music 
whose  ideal  projection  depends  not  on  the  singers'  intelligence,  but 
on  supervoices  of  inconceivable  range  and  staying  power.  The 
discrepancy  between  conception  and  practical  results  arose  from 
the  simple  fact  that  Beethoven's  deafness  cut  him  off  from  the 
realities  of  performance.  For  years  he  had  to  answer  in  his  head 
the  question  of  what  voices  and  instruments  could  do. 

In  1812,  the  year  of  the  Seventh  and  Eighth  Symphonies,  Bee- 
thoven had  already  planned  one  in  D  minor.  This  came  to  nothing 
at  the  time,  but  five  years  later  he  began  again.  Another  six  years 
elapsed  during  which  he  worked  at  it  in  desultory  fashion,  and  it 
was  not  until  the  summer  of  1823  that  he  finally  dropped  every- 
thing else  in  order  to  complete  it.  One  section  caused  him  almost 
insuperable  difficulties:  in  his  youth  he  had  been  moved  by 
Schiller's  Ode  to  Joyy  and  as  early  as  1796  he  had  begun  to  make 
sketches  for  a  setting  of  it.  The  decision  to  make  this  choral  setting 
the  last  movement  of  the  D  minor  Symphony  came  late,  and 
brought  with  it  the  knotty  problems  of  how  to  connect  it  with  the 
third  movement  and — even  more  important — of  how  to  make  it 
seem  an  integral  part  of  the  symphony.  As  the  summer  of  1823 
deepened,  he  labored  at  the  vast  composition  like  one  possessed.  At 
last,  on  September  5,  he  declared  the  Ninth  Symphony  complete, 
though  he  actually  went  on  perfecting  certain  details  for  months. 


Beethoven  was  badly  in  need  of  money  at  this  time  because  of 
his  nephew,  and  this  situation  led  him  to  embark  on  a  career  of 
double-dealing.  Before  the  Missa  Solennis  was  completed,  he  had 
promised  it  to  half  a  dozen  publishers  and  sold  it  to  a  seventh. 
His  manipulation  of  the  Ninth  Symphony  was  even  more  devious* 
In  1822,  in  return  for  a  consideration  of  £50,  he  had  promised  his 
next  symphony  in  manuscript  to  the  Philharmonic  Society  of 
London:  the  Society  took  this  to  mean  that  they  would  be  the  first 
to  perform  a  work  dedicated  to  them.  In  the  meantime,  Beethoven 
had  promised  the  premiere  to  Berlin,  and  so  had  thoughtfully  dedi- 
cated the  symphony  to  the  King  of  Prussia.  The  next  episode  in  the 
saga  of  the  "Choral"  Symphony  was  his  pleased  yielding  to  the 
demands  of  a  committee  of  Viennese  admirers  that  the  work  be 
first  performed  in  Vienna.  Beethoven  stuck  to  the  letter  of  his 
agreement  with  the  London  group,  however,  and  sent  them  the 
autograph  score.  The  field  was  thus  narrowed  to  Vienna  when 
fresh  complications  arose.  "  After  an  amount  of  bargaining  and  de- 
lay and  vacillation  which  is  quite  incredible,"  says  Grove,  "partly 
arising  from  the  cupidity  of  the  manager,  partly  from  the  ex- 
traordinary obstinacy  and  suspiciousness  of  Beethoven,  from  the 
regulation  of  the  censorship,  and  from  the  difficulties  of  the 
music,"  the  premiere  finally  took  place  May  7,  1824,  on  the  same 
program  with  the  shamefully  abbreviated  version  of  the  Missa 
Solennis  already  mentioned.  The  "Choral"  Symphony  aroused 
frenzied  applause,  which  Beethoven,  with  his  back  to  the  audience, 
neither  heard  nor  saw.  Not  until  he  was  turned  around  to  face 
a  riot  of  appreciation  did  he  know  that  his  Ninth  Symphony  was 
a  success.  But  after  finding  that  his  profit  for  the  evening  was  only 
450  florins,  he  went  home  in  a  rage  and  spent  the  night  fully 
dressed.  Thus,  amid  circumstances  quite  as  comic  as  tragic,  the 
most  controversial  of  all  symphonies  was  ushered  into  an  un- 
suspecting world. 

To  discuss  the  Ninth  Symphony  at  all,  in  view  of  the  welter  of 
conflicting  opinions — ranging  from  the  truly  worshipful  ardor  of  a 
Paul  Bekker  through  the  palaverings  of  heavy  snobs  to  the  cold 
dislike  of  any  number  of  sincere  people  who  have  their  reasons — 
requires  a  vast  girding-up  of  the  loins.  Briefly,  the  idolaters  con- 
ceive of  the  Ninth  as  a  constant  and  ineffable  soaring  into  the 
musical  empyrean  until,  at  the  height  of  the  choral  finale,  to  quote 

2O4  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Bekker,  "A  giddiness  of  spiritual  intoxication  seems  to  seize  the 
mind,  and  this  greatest  of  all  instrumental  songs  of  life  closes  with 
dithyrambic  outcry,  to  echo  forever  in  the  hearts  of  mankind." 
Sir  W.  H.  Hadow,  usually  so  restrained  in  his  enthusiasms,  goes 
Bekker  one  better:  "When  the  chorus  enters  it  is  as  though  all  the 
forces  of  humanity  were  gathered  together:  number  by  number 
the  thought  grows  and  widens  until  the  very  means  of  its  expres- 
sion are  shattered  and  we  seem  no  more  to  be  listening  to  music 
but  to  be  standing  face  to  face  with  the  living  world."  It  is  not 
possible  to  question  the  sincerity  of  great  students  who  consum- 
mate their  listening  experience  in  rhapsodies  of  this  sort,  but  all  too 
many  of  us  have  failed,  after  anxious  listening,  to  find  that  "echo" 
in  our  hearts.  Further,  having  gone  to  a  concert  hall  to  listen  to 
music,  and  having  heard  for  three  movements  some  of  the  best 
ever  written,  it  is  reasonable  to  complain  of  having  this  pleasure 
suspended,  and  of  "no  more  . . .  listening  to  music.  . .  ."  Finally,  it 
is  impossible  not  to  allow  the  suspicion  to  creep  across  our  minds 
that  the  reason  we  are  not  listening  to  music  is  simply  that  Bee- 
thoven, here  as  little  at  ease  with  voices  as  in  the  Missa  Solennis,  did 
not  succeed  in  translating  his  conception  into  musical  terms.  This 
is  the  more  lamentable  because  the  main  theme  he  wasted  on  the 
pompous  claptrap  of  Schiller  is  of  a  Bachian  severity  and  mag- 
nificence.* The  Ninth  Symphony  rouses  and  fulfills  our  highest 
expectations  for  three  movements  and  part  of  a  fourth,  and  ends  in 
a  cataclysmic  anticlimax. 

The  story  of  Beethoven's  life  after  1824  is  simply  told:  it  is 
marked  by  anxiety  over  his  nephew's  reckless  course,  an  ever- 
increasing  absorption  in  money  matters  (so  his  nephew  would  be 
well  provided  for  after  his  death),  and  growing  ill  health.  Musi- 
cally, these  years  were  occupied  with  the  composition  of  five 
massive  string  quartets,  the  sketching  of  a  tenth  symphony,  and 
various  smaller  projects.  Socially,  with  his  deafness  complete,  Bee- 
thoven was  just  about  as  difficult  as  ever,  quarreling  and  making 
up  with  his  friends  in  his  usual  impetuous  way.  He  fell  in  with  one 

*  Some  conductors  have  solved  the  difficulties  of  performing  the  choral  move- 
ment by  omitting  it.  This  may  be  indefensible  by  the  strictest  artistic  standards,  but 
at  least  it  assures  the  first  three  movements  of  adequate  rehearsal.  The  traditional 
procedure  is  to  overrehearse  the  choral  movement  (which  ends  by  defeating  the 
singers  anyway)  and  slight  the  first  three  movements,  with  the  result  that  everyone 
leaves  the  performance  dissatisfied. 


Holz,  a  jolly  young  violinist  of  expansive  habits,  whom  Beethoven's 
older  friends  jealously  suspected  of  leading  the  master  astray.  In  a 
measure,  their  fears  turned  out  to  be  reasonable,  for  conviviality 
was  scarcely  the  best  regime  for  an  aging  man  probably  in  an  ad- 
vanced stage  of  a  serious  liver  complaint.  His  nephew's  attempted 
suicide  in  the  summer  of  1826  all  but  prostrated  him — and  left  him 
an  old  man.  Taking  Karl  with  him,  he  spent  an  agitated  autumn 
in  the  country  with  his  prosperous  brother  Johann.  Already,  he 
felt  his  own  end  approaching,  and  the  uncertainty  of  Karl's  future 
haunted  him.  He  pled  incessantly  with  Johann  to  make  Karl  his 
heir,  and  these  discussions,  which  from  first  to  last  were  fruitless 
(as  Johann  reasonably  pointed  out,  he  still  had  a  wife),  culminated 
in  a  violent  quarrel.  Dragging  Karl  along,  Beethoven  fled  pre- 
cipitately to  Vienna  in  an  open  carriage,  and  there  he  arrived  on 
December  2.  He  went  straight  to  bed  with  a  raging  fever,  and 
never  rose  again. 

Shortly  after  his  fifty-sixth  birthday,  Beethoven  quarreled 
fiercely  with  Karl.  They  were  not  reconciled  when  the  youth  was 
summoned  to  join  his  regiment,  and  he  never  saw  his  uncle  again. 
Now,  however,  Johann  and  his  despised  wife  arrived  to  care  for 
their  great  relative.  In  his  last  days,  he  was  not  alone:  among  his 
many  visitors  was  Franz  Schubert,  whose  songs  he  perused,  and 
declared  to  be  works  of  genius.  A  set  of  Handel  arrived  as  a  gift 
from  London,  and  he  paged  through  it  in  an  ecstasy  of  delight: 
years  before  he  had  declared  that  "Handel  is  the  greatest  of  us 
all."  Late  in  February,  1827,  after  he  had  been  tapped  five  times 
for  dropsy,  all  hope  of  his  recovery  was  abandoned.  He  lingered 
for  almost  a  month.  On  March  24,  the  sublime  questioner  received 
the  last  sacrament,  and  almost  immediately  the  death  struggle  be- 
gan. It  lasted  for  more  than  two  whole  days,  and  Beethoven  was 
often  in  acute  agony.  On  March  26,  1827,  a  strange  storm  broke 
over  Vienna — snow  and  hail  followed  by  thunder  and  lightning 
which  roused  the  dying  man.  He  opened  his  eyes,  shook  his  fist  at 
the  sky,  and  died. 

The  master  who  had  metamorphosed  so  many  phases  of  music 
devoted  the  last  few  years  of  his  life  to  the  shaping  of  five  string 
quartets  which  not  only  changed  the  face  of  chamber  music,  but 
also — with  destiny's  rare  inexorable  logic — consummated  his  own 

2O6  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

achievement.  Dryden  nobly  said  of  Shakespeare  that  "he  found 
not  but  created  first  the  stage.35  And,  without  disparaging  Beetho- 
ven's great  predecessor  it  may  be  truly  said  that  he  created  mod- 
ern music.  In  no  department  of  his  thought  is  this  more  easily 
perceptible  than  in  the  chamber  music,  at  which  he  had  been 
working  from  his  prentice  years.  He  wrote  a  bewildering  variety 
of  chamber  pieces,  among  them  sonatas  for  violin  and  piano  and 
cello  and  piano,  quartets  and  a  quintet  for  strings  and  piano,  vari- 
ous compositions  for  wind  instruments  and  strings,  and  trios,  quar- 
tets, and  a  quintet  for  strings  alone.  Scarcely  any  of  these  are  un- 
rewarding, and  a  few — notably  the  "Kreutzer"  Sonata  for  violin 
and  piano,  with  its  superb  first  and  second  movements  and  trifling 
finale — have  achieved  wide  popularity.  But  the  string  quartet  was 
the  only  chamber  ensemble  he  wrote  for  in  every  stage  of  his 
artistic  development,  and  in  his  quartets  can  be  traced  with  won- 
derful clarity  the  record  of  his  changing  attitude  toward  the  ever 
more  elaborate  problems  he  set  himself. 

The  first  six  string  quartets  (Opus  18),  composed  about  1800, 
are  the  children  of  Haydn  and  Mozart.  They  are  light  and  charm- 
ing works,  touched  with  a  fitful  melancholy  that  barely  disturbs 
their  eighteenth-century  serenity.  They  sound  like  the  exquisitely 
polished  work  of  an  accomplished  musician  with  no  plans  of  his 
own  for  the  future.  An  occasional  touch  of  brusquerie,  a  petulant 
turn  of  phrase,  alone  suggest  that  their  young  composer  is  not  so 
well  mannered  as  he  should  be.  Of  the  six,  only  one — the  fourth — 
is  in  a  minor  key;  it  is,  beside  the  lighthearted  five,  almost  a 
changeling:  its  loveliness  has  a  remote  and  archaic  quality. 

A  half  dozen  years  passed,  and  Beethoven  composed  the  mag- 
nificent set  of  three  quartets  (Opus  59)  for  Count  Rasoumovsky, 
Prince  Lichnowsky's  brother-in-law.  They  belong  to  the  period  of 
the  "Eroica"  and  the  "Appassionato,"  and  are  not  unnaturally 
works  of  conflict  and  passion.  Still  structurally  orthodox,  they  are 
as  romantic  in  content  as  the  first  set  of  quartets  is  classical.  They 
are  the  direct  ancestors,  in  coloration  and  feeling,  of  the  chamber 
music  of  the  rest  of  the  century  down  to  Brahms.  The  first  "Rasou- 
Hiovsky"  opens  with  a  lush  and  alluring  melody  on  the  broadest 
lines:  it  might  easily  be  the  theme  song  of  the  romantic  movement. 
The  piercingly  sweet,  introspective  adagio  is  one  of  the  first  hints 
in  music  of  that  self-pity  which  was  to  echo  intolerably  through  the 
trasic  cadences  of  Piotr  Ilvich  Tchaikovskv.  Here,  if  anvwhere.  is 


that  often  described  but  seldom  captured  legendary  hero — Beetho- 
ven, the  Emperor  of  Sturm  und  Drang.  Only  two  years  after  these 
three  highly  personal  masterpieces,  he  wrote,  almost  simultane- 
ously with  the  "Emperor"  Concerto,  the  brilliant  "Harp"  Quartet 
(Opus  74) .  It  fits  in  with  the  old-fashioned  virtuoso's  idea  of  the 
string  quartet  as  a  showpiece  for  a  first  violinist  accompanied  by 
three  far  less  important  players.  Beethoven  closed  the  quartets  of 
his  second  period  with  a  transitional  work  (Opus  95)  that  Men- 
delssohn called  the  most  typical  thing  he  ever  wrote — a  strange 
judgment.  It  partakes  of  the  easily  projected  emotional  qualities  of 
the  "Rasoumovsky"  group  and  of  the  more  abstract  sublimation 
of  emotion  characteristic  of  the  last  five  quartets. 

These  last  five*  are  considered  difficult  to  understand.  The  sen- 
suousness  and  warm  emotionalism  of  the  middle  period  have  van- 
ished. Compared  with  the  "Rasoumovsky,"  for  instance,  they  are 
cold  and  severe.  The  strict  four-movement  form  of  the  earlier  quar- 
tets has  been  abandoned  for  a  freer  design  whose  unity  is  not  at 
once  apparent.  The  musical  thinking  is  both  complex  and  spare: 
ornamentation  has  been  excised  with  Dorian  severity,  and  every- 
thing is  surrendered  to  essentials.  This,  certainly,  is  abstract  music 
in  excelsis,  and  its  bareness  of  effect  would  at  times  be  insupportable 
were  it  not  mitigated  by  contrapuntal  weaving  that  in  complexity 
and  effectiveness  rivals  that  of  Bach.  It  is  not  easy  to  come  away 
from  a  first  hearing  of  these  quartets  with  a  desire  to  hear  them 
again.  But  if  we  do  survive  the  first  shock  of  this  ascetically  shaped 
art,  and  go  back  to  it  again  and  again,  we  are  almost  certain  to  end 
up  thinking  the  last  five  quartets  among  the  most  soul-satisfying 
music  ever  composed. 

So,  from  the  apparently  innocent  mimicry  of  Haydn  and  Mozart, 
Beethoven  had  traveled  as  long  a  road  as  any  artist  ever  trod.  If 
today  he  is  the  most  universally  cherished  of  all  musicians,  it  is 
because  in  the  course  of  this  heroic  pilgrimage  he  created  some- 
thing enduring  for  every  sort  and  condition  of  man.  He  failed  often, 
but  in  the  one  overpowering  ambition  of  his  life  he  succeeded  su- 
premely: for  the  humanity  he  loved  so  much  he  left  a  testament  of 
beauty  with  a  legacy  for  every  man. 

*  The  opus  numbers  are  127,  130,  131,  132,  and  135.  In  addition,  the  Grosse  Fuge* 
originally  the  last  movement  of  Opus  130,  is  now  published  separately  as  Opus  133. 
Beethoven  wrote  a  new  finale  for  Opus  130  because  the  fugue  was  sharply  criticized 
hv  M«  fri^nH«  a«  ton  liftAw  fnr  the  rest  of  the  auartet. 

Chapter  VIII 

Carl  Maria  von  Weber 

(Eutin,  December  i83  iy86-June  5,  18263  London) 

"T  TERY  little  is  done,  nowadays,  to  disabuse  us  of  the  idea  that 
V  Carl  Maria  von  Weber  wrote  three  overtures,  a  piano  con- 
certo, a  notable  salon  piece — and  nothing  more.  Occasionally  a 
prima  donna  with  the  right  physique  trots  out  one  of  his  tempestu- 
ous arias,  or  a  conductor  in  an  archeologizing  frame  of  mind 
disinters  one  of  his  less-known  overtures.  Thus  Igor  Stravinsky, 
not  satisfied  with  proving  that  the  numbers  on  Tchaikovsky's  sym- 
phonies actually  mean  something,  and  that  a  Third  preceded  the 
Fourth,  began  an  epochal  experiment  of  keeping  a  Carnegie  Hall 
audience  awake  throughout  an  entire  concert  by  playing  a  Turan- 
dot  overture  by  Weber.  In  general,  it  was  well  received,  and  the 
subscribers  went  home  content  to  know  that  Weber  had  composed 
something  besides  the  overtures  to  Der  Freischittz,  Euryanthe.,  and 
Oberon>  the  Conzertstuck,  and  the  Invitation  to  the  Dance. 

Except  for  a  few  great  arias  that  are  ever  fresh,  but  are  heard  all 
too  rarely  today,  time  has  winnowed  wisely  in  the  case  of  Weber. 
The  best  of  him  is  precisely  what  is  most  familiar.  A  tour  through 
his  piano  works  is  a  depressing  excursion:  the  country  at  its  grand- 
est is  little  better  than  undulating,  and  the  romantic  tarns  and 
craggy  peaks  turn  out  to  be  mirages.  It  is  no  joke  to  be  left  high 
and  dry  in  the  midst  of  a  Weber  piano  sonata.  His  output  was  not 
large,  and  too  much  of  it  consists  of  patriotic  part  songs  that  may 
have  been  popular  in  Hitler's  Germany  for  reasons  that  would 
not  give  them  a  hearing  elsewhere.  Nor  do  his  songs  for  solo  voice 
have  any  vitality.  It  may  be  stated  that  Weber  wrote  two  Masses, 
admirable  in  sentiment  and  sound  in  construction,  which  have 
been  read  through  with  approbation  by  his  biographers — and  are 
never  performed.  Of  his  nine  operas,  only  three  hold  their  place, 
and  that  precariously.  What  remains  of  Weber's  once  lofty  reputa- 
tion is  dwindling  rapidly.  It  is  becoming  apparent  that  he  was 
little  more  than  a  talented  showman  who  happened,  at  a  strategic 
moment,  to  epitomize  the  Zeitgeist,  or  its  trappings,  more^obviously 
than  any  other  musician  of  his  time. 


Weber  came  of  that  same  family  from  which  Mozart  took  his 
wife — a  roving,  shiftless,  and  talented  tribe  who  might  well  have 
been  the  prototypes  of  Sanger's  Circus.  His  father.,  having  failed  to 
discover  a  genius  among  his  first  brood,  remarried  at  the  age  of 
fifty-one,  and  thus  begot  Carl  Maria,  who  was  born  at  Eutin,  near 
Liibeck,  in  1786.  His  mother  was  eighteen  at  Carl  Maria's  birth, 
and  a  dozen  years  of  her  husband's  thoughtless  and  well-nigh 
brutal  treatment  sufficed  to  kill  her.  Old  Franz  Anton,  on  the  other 
hand,  was  something  of  a  personage,  and  like  Buckingham,  "in  the 
course  of  one  revolving  moon,  was  chemist,  fiddler,  statesman,  and 
buffoon.53  He  dabbled  in  lithography  with  its  inventor,  the  emi- 
nent Senefelder,  sat  at  ease  among  the  orchestral  strings,  had  the 
ear  of  the  Elector  Palatine  in  weighty  financial  matters,  and  played 
Tyl  Eulenspiegel  on  the  side.  Unhappily  for  his  relatives,  this  self- 
styled  Baron  fancied  himself  most  as  the  impresario  of  a  traveling 
theatrical  company,  and  more  latterly  as  the  father-nursemaid  of 
another  Mozart.  Nursemaid  he  was,  but  scarcely  a  tender  one:  the 
life  of  the  road  permanently  injured  Carl  Maria,  who  had  inher- 
ited his  mother's  frailness  and  nervous  instability  rather  than  his 
father's  rugged  health  and  bouncing  spirits. 

Practically  snatched  from  his  swaddling  clothes  to  be  rushed 
over  the  face  of  Germany,  the  intended  prodigy,  after  a  makeshift 
musical  education  acquired  on  the  run,  miraculously  achieved  his 
twelfth  year.  He  took  a  few  lessons  from  Michael  Haydn  in  Salz- 
burg, and  there  Franz  Anton  pompously  brought  out  the  boy's 
first  published  work,  six  little  fugues.  These,  as  well  as  an  opera 
that  has  been  lost — in  fact,  all  of  Weber's  juvenile  and  youthful 
efforts — were  feeble  products  of  the  forcing-house.  The  signs  were 
that  Carl  Maria  was  far  from  a  genius,  and  so  his  father  (who  had 
lately  added  the  unearned  title  of  major  to  his  von  and  other  pre- 
tensions) claimed  all  the  more  loudly  that  he  was.  The  unadorned 
facts  are  that  he  had  become  an  excellent  pianist  for  his  age,  had 
picked  up  the  rudiments  of  composition  without  knowing  exactly 
what  to  do  with  them,  and  had  already  acquired  in  the  theater 
itself  that  inexhaustible  knowledge  of  stagecraft  that  was  to  be  his 
salient  asset  as  an  operatic  composer.  While  other  boys  were  play- 
ing at  marbles  or  hopscotch,  Carl  Maria  was  sniffing  grease  paint 
and  powder,  dodging  sceneshifters,  and  absorbing  the  theater's 
multifarious  lore  and  rule  of  thumb. 

2IO  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Weber's  first  performed  opera — Das  Waldmadchen — dates  from 
1800,  and  though  he  himself  later  dismissed  it  as  immature  stuff., 
it  was  produced  as  far  afield  as  St.  Petersburg,  and  actually  had 
considerable  success  at  Vienna.  It  fell  flat  at  its  premiere.,  however, 
and  the  boy  had  to  work  hard  and  wait  some  years  to  get  a  hearing 
for  a  second  opera,  which  was  even  less  encouragingly  received 
than  Das  Waldmadchen.  Meanwhile,  probably  realizing  that  he  was 
trying  to  make  bricks  without  straw,  he  began  to  study  theory,  at 
first  alone,  and  then  in  Vienna  under  the  fashionable  and  ingratiat- 
ing Abbe  Vogler,  whom  Browning  has  immortalized  alongf  lines 
that  give  no  true  picture  of  a  man  who  was  little  more  than  a 
dilettante  and  quack.  The  choice  of  Vogler  is  typical  of  old  Weber's 
lavish  inattention  to  matters  that  required  serious  thought.  But  the 
Abbe,  though  not  a  painstaking  teacher,  had  a  flair  for  communi- 
cating his  catholic  tastes.  Besides,  he  had  powerful  connections, 
and  his  boys  had  a  way  of  getting  the  plums  while  the  charges  of 
worthier  pedagogues  went  neglected.  Thus,  before  Weber  was 
eighteen  years  old,  he  found  himself  conductor  of  the  opera  at 
Breslau.  To  serve  the  Abbe's  brash  young  favorite,  many  older  and 
more  experienced  men  were  passed  over,  and  there  were  plenty  of 

Weber  was  not  happy  in  Breslau.  While;  still  in  Vogler' s  en- 
tourage in  Vienna,  he  had  found  a  friend  in  one  Gansbacher,  a 
talented  wastrel  who  passed  on  his  frivolous  tastes  to  Weber.  Natu- 
rally, Carl  Maria  found  a  provincial  capital  tame  after  the  flesh- 
pots  of  Vienna,  and  finally,  in  an  excess  of  boredom,  tried  to  bring 
those  fleshpots  to  Breslau,  dissipated  as  wildly  as  the  small  re- 
sources of  the  town  permitted,  and  ended  by  smothering  himself 
under  a  burden  of  debt.  Although  he  was  a  delightful  com- 
panion, and  had  somehow  (certainly  not  from  his  noble  father), 
acquired  the  instinctive  good  manners  of  a  gentleman,  he  got  off  on 
the  wrong  foot  with  the  Breslauers.  He  revealed  himself  at  once  as 
a  masterly  conductor,  but  exacted  such  rigid  discipline  that  his 
company  soon  came  to  resent  him.  Worse,  his  innovations  ran  into 
money,  and  he  fell  foul  of  the  tightfisted  business  mauagement. 
Only  the  regisseur  saw  that  Weber  was  a  man  of  vision,  and  tried 
vainly  to  arbitrate  the  difficulties.  Furthermore,  he  presented  Weber 
\vith  a  fantastic  and  highly  romantic  libretto — Rubezahl — which  he 
worked  at  feverishly,  but  never  completed. 


Weber  spent  many  pleasant  hours  with  other  young  musicians., 
playing  the  piano  and  talking  shop.  These  soirees  usually  ended 
with  his  friends  sitting  back  and  listening  to  Weber  sing.  He  had 
a  fine  tenor  voice,  and  commonly  accompanied  himself  on  the 
mandolin,  to  which,  strange  to  relate,  he  was  excessively  devoted. 
These  recitals  came  abruptly  to  an  end.  One  evening,  a  friend 
called  at  his  lodgings  to  try  over  the  recently  completed  overture 
to  Rubezahl,  and  found  Weber  lying  unconscious  on  the  floor:  he 
had  accidentally  swallowed  some  acid  used  in  his  chemical  dab- 
blings — he,  like  his  father,  was  interested  in  lithographing  music. 
When  he  recovered,  his  singing  voice  was  ruined,  and  he  could 
barely  speak  above  a  whisper. 

Weber  resigned  his  Breslau  position  in  1806;  and  found  a  tem- 
porary stopgap  as  musical  director  at  Duke  Eugen  of  Wtirttem- 
berg's  Silesian  residence.  Weber  moved  in  with  his  aging  father 
and  an  aunt,  and  spent  several  delightful  months,  during  which  he 
composed  his  only  two  symphonies,  both  in  C  major,  and  a  miscel- 
lany of  other  now  forgotten  music.  But  the  approach  of  Napoleon 
broke  up  this  idyl  in  less  than  a  year,  and  Eugen  went  off  to  the 
wars,  not,  however,  before  securing  Weber  a  snug  post  in  Stuttgart 
as  secretary  to  his  brother  Ludwig.  From  the  beginning,  this  posi- 
tion was  fraught  with  difficulties:  his  was  the  thankless  task  of  man- 
aging the  tangled  finances  and  answering  the  elaborate  corre- 
spondence of  a  debauched  and  despised  younger  brother,  whose 
absurd  escapades  and  dizzy  extravagances  were  surpassed  only  by 
those  of  King  Friedrich  himself.  Weber  soon  found  himself  swim- 
ming with  the  luxurious  tide,  and  discovered  that  his  income  would 
not  adequately  support  himself  and  his  father.  Kingly  favor  was 
needed,  but  kingly  favor  was  denied  one  whose  painful  duty  it  was 
to  be  constantly  nagging  for  the  wherewithal  to  stave  off  Ludwig's 
creditors.  Insensibly  the  King  came  to  associate  Weber  with  his 
brother's  thriftlessness,  and  matters  were  not  helped  when  Weber 
vented  his  own  spleen  at  this  injustice  by  playing  broad  practical 
jokes  on  the  King.  Once  he  was  actually  arrested  when  he  mali- 
ciously misdirected  a  washerwoman,  who  had  asked  him  the  way 
to  the  laundry,  into  the  King's  presence.  Friedrich  only  waited  for 
a  pretext  to  rid  himself  of  this  hateful  lackey,  whose  title  of  baron 
(which  to  the  end  of  his  days  Weber  innocently  sported)  gave  him 
free  and  constant  access  to  the  court.  In  1810  the  occasion  came  in 

212  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

a  mix-up  over  some  misappropriated  funds,  the  details  of  which 
are  still  unclear.  At  any  rate,  old  Franz  Anton  seems  to  have  been 
guiltily  involved.  On  February  26,  father  and  son  were  banished 
perpetually  from  Friedrich's  dominions. 

The  decree  of  banishment  staggered  Weber  for  more  reasons 
than  one.  First,  he  had  become  entangled  with  Margarethe  Lang, 
a  young  singer  at  the  opera,  whose  accommodating  morals  had 
drawn  him  into  a  tender  alliance.  Second,  he  had  found  some 
kindred  spirits — dilettantes  like  himself — who  had  a  great  passion 
for  art,  and  an  even  greater  passion  for  the  bottle.*  Finally,  after 
taking  his  old  score  of  Das  Waldmddchen  from  the  shelf,  and  rewrit- 
ing it  almost  completely  under  the  name  of  Sylvana,  he  had  it  in 
rehearsal  when  the  blow  fell.  Now,  with  so  many  important  issues 
at  stake,  this  must  have  seemed  like  being  cast  out  of  paradise,  and 
the  effect  was  to  chasten  Weber,  who  suddenly  realized  that  he  had 
been  squandering  precious  time.  With  a  new  solemnity,  he  rededi- 
cated  himself  to  his  art.  He  was  twenty-three  years  old. 

There  now  began  a  confused  period  in  Weber's  life,  for  he  had 
no  definite  employment,  and  had  to  make  a  living  mainly  as  a 
concert  pianist.  After  settling  his  father  at  Mannheim  (the  tireless 
old  scamp  was  threatening  a  third  marriage  at  the  age  of  seventy- 
six),  he  removed  to  Darmstadt  so  as  to  renew  relations  with  the 
Abbe  Vogler,  who  led  the  court  band  there.  He  saw  Gansbacher 
again,  and  struck  up  a  warm  friendship  with  another  of  Vogler's 
proteges,  one  Jakob  Liebmann  Beer,  who  was  to  make  a  noise — 
a  very  loud  noise — in  the  world  as  Giacomo  Meyerbeer.  Contact 
with  this  talented  young  trickster,  who  at  seventeen  was  already 
more  famous  than  Weber,  stimulated  him  to  feverish  activity.  Mu- 
sical ideas  crowded  his  mind,  many  of  which  did  not  mature  into 
action  until  years  later,  notably  the  main  theme  of  the  Invitation  to 
the  Dance  and  some  ballet  motives  eventually  used  in  Oberon.  More 
important,  he  toyed  with  the  idea  of  using  the  Freischutz  legend  for 
an  opera.  He  finally  got  a  hearing  for  Sylvana  at  Frankfort  in  Sep- 

*  The  friends  called  their  association  Fausts  Hollenfahrt — Faust's  Ride  to  Hell — 
and  addressed  each  other  under  fantastic  names,  thus  foreshadowing  Schumann  and 
his  Damdsbund  (page  297).  They  wrote  musical  criticism  for  periodicals,  discussed 
literature  and  folklore,  and  shared  their  romantic  dreams  and  fancies.  It  was  all 
as  heavily  German  as  Weber's  nickname — Krautsalat.  Haydn  and  Mozart  would 
have  oeen  ill  at  ease  in  such  company,  but  the  romantics  down  through  Wagner 
would  have  felt  at  home  among  them. 

WEBER  213 

tember,  1810,  mainly  to  empty  seats,  for  only  the  sternest  devotees 
of  music  could  tear  themselves  away  from  a  field  outside  the  town, 
where  the  generously  proportioned  Mme  Blanchard  was  making  a 
balloon  ascent.  The  premiere  of  Sjlvana  turned  out  to  be  nothing 
more  than  a  quiet  family  affair:  Weber  conducted;  his  mistress, 
Margarethe  Lang>  was  the  first  soprano;  his  future  wife,  Caroline 
Brandt,  sang  the  title  role.  Undeterred  by  the  public  inattention  to 
his  operatic  career>  he  finally  completed,  after  many  distractions, 
a  comic  Singspiel  of  lusty  vigor,  Abu  Hassan.,  the  frolicsome  over- 
ture to  which  is  still  occasionally  played.  It  was  first  produced  at 
Munich  in  June,  1811,  and  the  response  was  such  that  Weber  felt 
he  had  not  been  working  in  vain.  Therefore^  it  is  aE  the  more 
strange  that  he  did  not  begin  work  on  another  opera  for  more  than 
six  years. 

Old  Franz  Anton  died  in  April,  1812,  and  left  Weber  alone  in 
the  world.  Although  his  father  had  caused  him  endless  trouble,  and 
had  been  a  constant  drain  on  his  meager  resources,  Weber  sin- 
cerely missed  him.  He  felt  cast  adrift  without  a  rudder,  though  in- 
deed the  externals  of  his  life  were  sufficiently  brilliant.  He  was 
acclaimed  everywhere  as  a  leading  pianist  and  conductor,  moved 
with  ease  in  the  highest  society  of  the  day,  and  was  admittedly  in 
the  forefront  of  that  astounding  galaxy  of  genius  and  talent  that 
was  striving  to  create  a  characteristic  German  Kultur  out  of  the 
wreckage  left  by  Napoleon.  Weber's  relations  with  his  famed  con- 
temporaries were  not  always  amicable:  for  instance,  he  and  Goethe 
seem  never  to  have  hit  it  off.  On  the  other  hand,  he  had  a  brief 
but  cordial  friendship  with  the  macabre  E.  T.  A.  Hoffmann.  With 
Ludwig  Spohr,  the  most  renowned  German  violinist  of  the  day,  he 
became  fast  friends  after  the  most  unpromising  beginning. 

Weber's  wanderings  were  brought  to  an  unexpected  close  in 
January,  1813,  while  he  was  stopping  in  Prague  on  his  way  to 
Italy.  He  was  just  preparing  for  a  two-year  tour  that  would  take 
him  farther  afield  than  usual,  when  an  extraordinarily  attractive 
offer  was  made  him:  the  direction  of  the  opera  at  a  salary  of  two 
thousand  gulden,,  with  an  annual  benefit  guaranteeing  him  an 
extra  thousand.  He  was  promised  a  vacation  of  two  or  three  months 
every  year,,  and — most  important  of  all — he  was  to  be  allowed  com- 
plete freedom  of  action  in  running  the  opera.  Weber  accepted  at 
once,  and  set  out  energetically  to  get  a  fine  company  together.  This 

214  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

turned  out  to  be  a  major  job,  for  his  predecessor  had  let  the  insti- 
tution, which  in  Mozart's  day  had  been  one  of  the  finest  in  Europe, 
run  to  rack  and  ruin,  and  now  almost  all  new  singers  had  to  be 
engaged — among  them,  significantly,  Caroline  Brandt.  During  his 
three  years'  tenure,  Weber  literally  regenerated  the  Prague  opera 
in  all  its  departments.  With  his  unequaled  firsthand  knowledge  of 
the  stage,  he  was  everywhere,  supervising  the  painting  of  the 
scenery,  criticizing  the  cut  and  color  of  the  costumes,  keeping  a 
shrewd  eye  on  the  box  office,  and  handling  all  phases  of  the 
publicity,  from  elegantly  worded  feuilletons  for  the  newspapers  to 
downright  ballyhoo  in  the  handbills.  His  regime,  from  a  musical 
point  of  view,  was  unqualifiedly  brilliant:  he  opened  with  a 
splendid  reading  of  Fernand  Cortez>*  a  grand  opera  on  a  heroic 
scale,  which  was  then  the  rage  of  Europe,  and  during  the  season 
mounted  no  less  than  twenty-four  newly  studied  and  perfectly 
coached  operas  and  Singspiels. 

To  secure  these  impressive  results  at  Prague,  Weber  exacted 
strict  discipline — he  was  always  something  of  a  martinet — and 
squandered  his  small  reserves  of  physical  energy.  His  precarious 
hold  on  good  health  slackened,  and  from  this  time  until  the  day  of 
his  death  he  was  never  really  well.  He  was  probably  born  tuber- 
cular; caravan  life  weakened  the  child,  dissipation  the  youth,  and 
overwork  the  man.  Moreover,  his  health  was  further  impaired  by 
the  emotional  storms  he  was  weathering  with  difficulty:  after 
breaking  off  with  Margarethe  Lang  (a  long  and  painful  process), 
he  had  begun  seriously  to  woo  Caroline  Brandt,  but  found  her 

In  the  summer  of  1814,  after  slowly  winning  back  some  of  his 
strength  at  a  Bohemian  spa,  Weber  proceeded  to  Berlin  for  the 
celebration  of  the  King  of  Prussia's  triumphal  entry  into  his  capital 
after  the  Allies5  victorious  march  on  Paris.  He  was  carried  along  on 
the  mounting  wave  of  patriotism,  and,  indeed,  had  some  share  in 
the  fetes.  He  gave  a  gala  concert  attended  by  the  King  and  the 
court,,  and  conducted  a  well-received  revival  of  Sylvana.  Some 
years  before,  he  had  summed  up  the  Prussian  temperament  as  "all 

*  Its  composer,  Gasparo  Luigi  Pacifico  Spontini  (i  774-1 85 1 ),  is  now  remembered 
chiefly,  if  at  all,  by  La  Vestale,  which  rated  a  Metropolitan  performance  as  recently 
as  1925.  He  shared  with  Cherubim  the  task  of  carrying  the  traditions  of  classical 
opera  into  the  nineteenth  century. 

WEBER  215 

jaw  and  no  heart/*  but  now  glad  faces,  singing  enthusiasm,  and  in- 
fectious patriotic  fervor  had  metamorphosed  Berlin  into  something 
infinitely  attractive.  When  he  left  for  a  hunting  trip  with  the  Grand 
Duke  of  Gotha,  the  vision  of  a  victorious  people  continued  to 
haunt  him,  and  he  sat  down  and  wrote  choral  settings  for  ten 
poems  from  Karl  Theodor  Korner's  Leyer  und  Schwert.  These  ran 
through  Germany  like  wildfire,  and  soon  Weber  was  almost  as 
much  a  hero  as  Korner,  who  had  been  killed  in  action  against  the 
French  at  the  age  of  twenty-two.  Little  more  than  a  year  later, 
after  pondering  the  news  of  Waterloo,  Weber  gave  vent  to  another 
fervid  patriotic  effusion — the  cantata  Kampf  und  Sieg,  which  was 
first  performed  at  Prague  in  December,  1815,  and  almost  equaled 
Leyer  und  Schwert  in  popularity.  These  were  truly  occasional  pieces, 
for  they  have  long  since  vanished.  In  1815,  however,  it  seemed 
that  great  ideas  could  have  no  more  eloquent  voice,  and  when, 
after  the  premiere  of  Kampf  und  Sieg,  old  General  von  Nostitz  re- 
marked to  Weber,  "With  you  I  hear  nations  speaking;  with 
Beethoven  only  big  boys  playing  with  rattles,"  he  was  voicing  the 
consensus.  Still,  it  should  be  noted  that  the  General  was  but  com- 
paring two  mediocre  compositions,  for  by  "Beethoven"  he  meant 
Wellington's  Victory. 

Weber  resigned  from  the  direction  of  the  Prague  opera  in 
September,  1816:  he  felt  that  he  had  accomplished  as  much  as  he 
could,  and  besides,  the  local  musicians  were  so  unfriendly  to  one 
they  considered  an  upstart  foreigner  that  he  had  never  been  happy 
there.  He  was  idle  for  only  a  few  months,  during  which  he  angled 
for  the  post  of  Kapellmeister  at  Berlin,  one  of  the  few  juicy  plums 
available.  Just  when  he  realized  that  he  was  wasting  his  time  in 
Berlin — the  job  there  was  to  go  begging  for  three  years  under  an 
indifferent  interim  man,  and  then  fall  to  Spontini — he  received 
notice  that  Friedrich  Augustus,  King  of  Saxony,  desired  him  to 
organize  the  performance  of  German  opera  at  Dresden.  After  some 
initial  bickering,  Weber  accepted  the  onerous  duty  on  condition 
that  he  be  put  on  an  equal  footing,  both  as  to  title  and  salary,  with 
Francesco  Morlacchi,  director  of  the  flourishing  Italian  opera. 
Doubtless  confident  that  he  would  have  his  own  way,  he  set 
energetically  to  work,  and  even  produced  his  first  opera— Etienne- 
Nicolas  MehuPs  Joseph — before  the  King  gave  way.  It  must  be 
remembered  that  Weber's  task  at  Dresden  was  even  more  difficult 

2l6  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

than  at  Prague,  for  here  he  had  to  create  everything  from  the 
ground  up.  But  the  results  were  so  satisfactory  that  in  September, 
1817,  less  than  a  year  after  he  arrived,  his  appointment  was  con- 
firmed for  life. 

It  all  sounds  like  a  success  story,  but  Dresden  was  no  bed  of 
roses  for  Weber.  The  King  respected  him,  but  he  was  never  on 
terms  of  friendly  intimacy  with  the  royal  family  or  the  court.  His 
position  was  somewhat  ambiguous:  his  great  work  as  a  composer 
lay  ahead  of  him,  and  at  this  period  he  was  known  chiefly  as  the 
fashioner  of  epidemically  popular  choruses,  an  efficient  conductor 
and  master  of  stagecraft,  and  a  pianist  of  eminence.  Even  when  the 
enormous  success  of  Der  Freischutz  made  him  as  well  known  in 
Germany  as  Beethoven,  the  Dresdeners  had  difficulty  in  believing 
that  their  German  Kapellmeister  was  a  really  important  man.  The 
indifference  of  the  King  and  the  court  was  more  than  matched  by 
the  hostility  of  the  Italian  company  and  its  intriguing  and  malin- 
gering director,  bold  in  his  certainty  that  Friedrich  Augustus  pre- 
ferred his  kind  of  music.  It  is  difficult  to  believe  that  Weber,  with 
his  frail  physique  and  waning  energy,  could  have  breasted  this  tide 
of  opposition  alone.  He  was  buoyed  up  by  the  assurance  that 
Caroline  Brandt  would  at  last  become  his  wife.  From  a  rather 
frivolous  soubrette  with  a  trivial  attitude  toward  music  and  a  hazy 
notion  of  Weber's  potentialities,  she  had  developed  into  a  woman 
of  strong  character  and  mature  understanding,  willing  to  forgo 
her  career  in  opera  in  order  to  fulfill  Weber's  exacting  specifica- 
tions for  a  wife.  They  were  married  in  Prague  on  November  4, 

More  important — at  least  for  posterity — was  the  fact  that  on 
July  2  of  that  same  year,  Weber  began  the  composition  of  Der 
Freischutz.  He  had  been  chewing  this  legend  over  in  the  cud  of  his 
memory  for  years,  and  in  February,  1817,  had  written  joyfully  to 
Caroline,  "Friedrich  Kind  is  going  to  begin  an  opera-book  for  me 
this  very  day.  The  subject  is  admirable,  interesting,  and  horribly 
exciting.  .  .  .  This  is  super-extra,  for  there's  the  very  devil  in  it.  He 
appears  as  the  Black  Huntsman;  the  bullets  are  made  in  a  ravine 
at  midnight,  with  spectral  apparitions  around.  Haven't  I  made 
your  flesh  creep  upon  your  bones?"  And  yet,  after  this  outburst  of 
enthusiasm,  Weber's  work  on  his  pet  idea  was  absurdly  dilatory:  at 
the  end  of  ifi  1 7  he  had  completed  only  one  aria  and  sketched  a  few 

WEBER  217 

scenes;  in  1818  he  devoted  exactly  three  days  to  Der  Freischutz; 
in  March,  1819,  he  took  one  day  off  to  write  the  finale  of  the  first 
act,  and  then  laid  the  score  aside  for  six  months.  In  September,  he 
resumed  work,  this  time  seriously,  and  on  May  13,  1820,  blotted 
the  last  notes  of  the  overture,  which  he  had  left  until  the  end.  It  is  a 
strange  tale,  this  story  of  the  composition  of  the  germinal  master- 
piece of  romantic  opera,  and  in  it  we  may  read  how  the  incubus  of 
Weber's  dilettantism  almost  stifled  his  first  major  creative  effort. 
His  tragedy  was  that,  at  a  time  when  he  most  needed  serious  train- 
ing, he  was  exposed  to  the  pedagogical  chicane  of  the  Abbe  Vogler, 
and  now  he  had  no  appetite  for  sustained  hard  work  and  no  un- 
faltering technique  just  when  his  inspiration  most  cried  out  for 

Weber's  slow  progress  with  Der  Freischutz  was  partly  due  to  the 
press  of  his  labors  at  the  opera,  which  were  made  even  heavier  by 
Morlacchi's  frequent  absences,  and  the  consequent  demands  on 
Weber's  time  at  the  Italian  opera.  Then,  too,  his  official  position 
obliged  him  to  write  occasional  large  compositions  for  court  func- 
tions and  national  fetes,  notably — to  celebrate  the  fiftieth  anni- 
versary of  the  King's  accession — a  jubilee  cantata  whose  arias  are 
effective  in  the  Haydn  oratorio  tradition,  and  are  still  occasionally 
sung.  Furthermore,  he  frittered  away  what  leisure  he  had  in  the 
composition  of  a  number  of  more  or  less  charming  salon  pieces, 
including  that  hardy  perennial,  Invitation  to  the  Dance.,  which  gave 
hints  to  both  Chopin  and  Johann  Strauss,  and  which  has,  indeed,, 
far  more  historical  than  musical  significance. 

After  Der  Freischutz  was  completed,  more  than  a  year  elapsed 
before  it  was  produced.  Forewarned  by  the  cold  indifference  of  the 
ruling  powers  at  Dresden  toward  his  aspirations  as  a  composer, 
Weber  promised  his  new  opera  to  Berlin,  and  Count  Briihl,  in- 
tendant  of  the  court  theater  there,  had  assured  him  that  it  would 
be  used  to  inaugurate  the  new  Schauspielhaus  in  the  spring  of 
1820.  But  the  opening  of  the  theater  was  postponed  for  a  year,  and 
Weber,  calm  in  the  conviction  that  he  had  written  a  masterpiece* 
and  that  its  production  would  establish  his  name  forever,  spent  his 
summer-vacation  months  in  an  extended  and  strenuous  tour  with 
his  wife.  Their  route  carried  them  into  Denmark,  and  at  Copen- 
hagen they  were  feted  by  the  royal  family.  They  did  not  return  to 
Dresden  until  November.  Meanwhile,  Weber  was  busy  composing: 

2l8  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

no  fewer  than  three  big  compositions  intervened  between  the  com- 
pletion of  Der  Freischutz  and  its  premiere.  The  first  of  these  was  an 
overture  and  incidental  music  to  Preciosa,  a  gypsy  drama  based  on 
a  novel  by  Cervantes.  The  music,  charming  and  atmospheric,  is 
one  of  the  first  attempts  by  a  foreigner  to  imitate  Spanish  rhythms 
and  color;  it  is  a  precursor  of  an  eminent  line  followed  by  such 
men  as  Rimsky-Korsakov,  Bizet,  Debussy,  and  Ravel.  The  music 
created  a  furore  in  Berlin,  and  served  to  pave  the  way  for  Der 
Freischutz.  Weber  next  tried  his  hand  at  a  comic  opera,  likewise 
with  a  Spanish  setting,  but  though  he  worked  at  it  on  and  off  for 
two  years,  Die  drei  Pintos  was  finally  laid  aside  incomplete. 

Weber's  third  big  enterprise  was  the  still-famous  Conzertstuck^ 
one  of  the  most  popular  piano  concertos  written  in  the  nineteenth 
century.  Actually  composed  in  his  spare  hours  during  the  re- 
hearsals of  Der  Freischutz,  the  Conzertstilck  was  finished  the  very 
morning  of  the  opera's  premiere,  when  Weber,  sitting  down  to  the 
piano,  played  the  entire  concerto  for  his  wife  and  proteg6  and 
pupil,  Julius  Benedict,  meanwhile  reciting  the  highly  romantic  but 
stereotyped  program  on  which  it  is  based:  a  medieval  lady  is  pining 
to  death  for  her  knight,  absent  in  the  Holy  Land;  she  sees  a  vision 
of  him  dying,  and  just  as  she  is  sinking  back  in  a  deathly  swoon, 
horns  are  heard,  and  her  hero  bursts  into  the  room.  "She  sinks  into 
his  arms" — mark  of  expression:  con  molto  fuoco  e  con  leggier ezza. 
It  is  all  very  effective,  especially  the  march  of  the  returning  war- 
riors and  the  swift  weaving  of  triumphant  love  harmonies  on 
which  the  curtain  falls.  Weber,  as  one  of  the  greatest  pianists  of  the 
time,  knew  how  to  write  music  that  was  at  once  dramatic  and 
pianistic,  though  certain  effects,  particularly  the  glissando  oc- 
taves when  the  knight  enters  the  lady's  chamber,  are  difficult  to 
achieve  with  the  heavier  action  of  the  modern  grand  piano.  The 
Conzertstiick,  exciting,  showy,  and  but  a  step  above  the  superficial, 
is  no  longer  much  played. 

When  Weber  arrived  in  Berlin  to  rehearse  Der  Freischutz^  he 
found  the  whole  town  given  over  to  the  cult  of  Spontini,  who  had 
lately  been  installed  as  tsar  of  all  the  musical  activities  there.  More- 
over, Spontini  was  preparing  to  launch  the  German  premiere  of 
his  own  Olympie  on  a  supercolossal  scale,  doubtless  hoping  by  this 
Hollywood  stroke  to  make  the  capital  his  forever.  And  its  success 
more  than  confirmed  the  worst  fears  of  Weber's  friends:  Olympic, 

WEBER  2ig 

with  its  huge  and  expensive  scenic  display,  stupefied  the  Berliners 
into  submission.  With  the  fate  of  romantic  opera  hanging  in  the 
balance,  Weber  alone  persisted  in  believing  that  all  was  well,  and 
went  calmly  and  methodically  ahead  with  his  preparations.  It  is, 
then,  all  the  more  remarkable  that,  badgered  by  his  wife  and 
friends,  and  about  to  measure  swords  with  the  reigning  favorite, 
he  was  able  to  compose  the  Conzertstuck  between  rehearsals.  He 
was  right;  his  friends  were  wrong.  On  the  evening  of  June  18,  1821, 
Berlin  heard  Der  Freischutz — and  Spontini  was  dethroned.  The 
decision  was  never  even  momentarily  in  doubt:  the  overture  was 
encored,  and  with  every  succeeding  number  the  temperature  of 
the  audience  seemed  to  rise  until,  at  the  end,  Weber  was  accorded 
an  ovation  unparalleled  in  the  annals  of  the  town.  Among  the 
celebrities  who  witnessed  the  victory  of  musical  romanticism  were 
Heine,  E.  T.  A.  Hoffmann,  and  Felix  Mendelssohn.  The  apt  if 
embarrassing  finale  for  Weber  was  being  crowned  with  a  laurel 
wreath,  at  three  o'clock  in  the  morning,  by  Hoffmann,  himself 
one  of  the  founding  fathers  of  romanticism. 

Within  six  months,  Der  Freischutz  was  given  to  shouting  audi- 
ences all  over  Germany.  On  October  3,  Vienna  set  its  seal  of  ap- 
proval on  it  quite  as  decisively  as  Berlin,  and  the  following  January 
Dresden  partly  wiped  off  its  indebtedness  to  Weber  by  a  demon- 
stration that  resembled  a  riot.  Romanticism,  essentially  a  great 
popular  movement,  had  long  been  awaiting  a  musical  document  to 
match  its  achievements  in  the  other  arts,  and  here  it  was.  Every- 
thing about  Der  Freischutz  appealed  to  the  German  people:  it  was 
emotional  to  the  point  of  melodrama;  it  exploited  the  supernatural 
and  the  macabre;  it  glorified  purity  (Agathe  is  the  ancestress  of 
Parsifal — and  of  the  Dumb  Girl  of  Portici),  and  it  spun  its  tale 
chiefly  in  the  easily  understood  popular  idiom  of  the  day.  In  short, 
it  was  German  through  and  through — or  so  it  seemed  to  its 
listeners  in  1821,  though  nowadays  not  a  little  of  it  sounds  like 
snippets  of  Rossini,  whom  Weber  detested  as  the  archfiend  of  the 
meretricious.  The  still  immensely  popular  overture  is  practically 
a  potpourri  of  the  best  things  in  the  opera,  and  a  truncated  version 
of  Der  Freischutz  based  on  these  would  slight  little  of  value.  Yet,  a 
severe  critic,  used  to  the  glib  craftsmanship  of  even  our  least 
talented  composers,  might  describe  this  overture  as  "one  damn 
thing  after  another,"  for  nowhere  is  Weber's  musical  joinery  more 

220  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

obvious  or  less  successful.  At  least  two  of  the  arias  likewise  endure: 
Max's  lyric  "Durch  die  Walder"  has  afresh  and  spontaneous  quality 
and  a  real  infusion  of  the  forest  glade;  Agathe's  dramatic  yet 
meditative  "Leise,  leise"  is,  with  a  single  exception,  Weber's  most 
inspired  music  for  the  soprano  voice. 

The  critics  had,  with  few  exceptions,  received  Der  Freischutz 
rapturously.  Among  the  dissenters,  however,  stood  the  pontifical 
Ludwig  Tieck,  an  eminent  theoretician  of  the  arts,  and  Weber's 
friend  Spohr.  They  complained  that  it  was  only  a  Singspiel  in  a 
new  idiom,  and  that  it  lacked  both  the  unity  and  largeness  of 
effect  that  bespeak  a  master.  Weber  was  so  nettled  that  when  he 
received  from  Domenico  Barbaia  a  commission  from  the  Karnt- 
nerthortheater  in  Vienna,  he  sat  down  cold-bloodedly  to  write  a 
true  grand  opera — to  prove,  in  short,  that  he  was  not  merely  a 
man  with  a  genius  for  melody,  but  also  a  master  of  his  craft.  He 
started  off  on  the  wrong  foot  by  accepting  a  libretto  that  reads  like 
a  hoax  by  Robert  Benchley,  actually  from  the  pen  of  a  Dresden 
poetess,  Helmine  von  Chezy.  Weber  made  her  revise  the  script 
nine  times,  and  then  gave  up  in  despair.1*  On  December  15,  182 1, 
he  began  to  compose  Euryanthe^  which  was  finished  in  less  than  a 
year,  but  was  not  mounted  until  October  25,  1823.  Vienna,  then 
being  served  Rossini's  sparkling  champagne  by  the  amiable  bottler 
himself,  gave  the  composer  of  Der  Freischutz  a  respectable  welcome 
at  the  pvemiere  of  his  new  opera — and  turned  again  to  Italian  de- 
Hghts.  Weber  was  in  despair,  and  began  to  doubt  himself.  He  even 
admitted  that  some  of  Rossini's  stuff  was  good.  For  him,  depres- 
sion could  go  no  farther.  He  returned  to  Dresden,  and  for  fifteen 
months  his  pen  was  allowed  to  gather  rust. 

In  view  of  the  fairly  uniform  unpopularity  ofEuryanthe,  it  seems 
that  the  Viennese  reaction  was  justified.  Performances  are  rare: 
the  opera  has  not  been  produced  in  the  United  States  since  Tos- 
canini  made  a  valiant  attempt  to  force  it  back  into  the  Metro- 
politan repertoire  after  twenty-seven  years'  neglect,  on  December 
19,  1914,  with  Frieda  Hempel  in  the  name  part.  It  was  later 
revived  at  Salzburg,  when  W.  J.  Turner,  after  agreeing  that  "the 

*  The  absurdity  of  the  libretto  may  be  judged  from  the  fact  that  the  action 
hinges  on  an  event  that  takes  place  before  the  opera  really  begins.  To  acquaint  the 
audience  with  these  cogent  matters,  the  conscientious  Weber  hit  on  the  scheme  of 
raising  the  curtain  during  the  overture,  and  showing  this  necessary  prologue  in  a 
Idbleau  vivant. 

WEBER  221 

music  never  falls  below  a  certain  high  level  of  craftsmanship  and 
even  of  invention/5  pronounced  the  opera  as  a  whole  "curiously 
uninspired  and  unmoving."  Mr.  Turner's  dislike  of  romantic 
music  is  well  known.  However,  Edward  J.  Dent,  with  no  parti  pris% 
s*ays,  "Ewytmtke  .  .  .  contains  much  beautiful  music,  but  it  is  so 
badly  constructed  that  it  has  always  been  a  failure."  Mr.  Turner 
and  Professor  Dent  represent  the  consensus.  Sir  Donald  Tovey,  on 
the  other  hand,,  is  strongly  aligned  with  the  minority.  What  his 
arguments  amount  to  is  that  if  the  libretto  is  refashioned  com- 
pletely, and  some  of  the  music  is  deleted  or  transposed,  and  some 
slight  additions  are  made,  the  result  can  be  highly  effective.  Even 
if  his  contention  is  correct>  it  merely  confirms  the  general  judg- 
ment that  Weber  failed  in  Euryanthe  to  show  that  he  was  a  master 
of  his  craft.  Its  living  fragments  are  fewer  than  those  of  Der  Frei- 
schutz:  only  the  overture,  a  spirited  and  high-flown  pastiche  whose 
moments  of  lyric  beauty  and  melodic  pageantry  hint  at  what  we 
would  be  missing  if  Weber's  accomplishment  had  but  matched  his 
intentions.  Ironically ,  no  one  has  better  summed  up  the  general 
feeling  about  Euryanthe  than  Schubert,,  himself  a  notorious  offender 
as  a  craftsman:  "This  is  no  music.  There  is  no  finale,  no  concerted 
piece  according  to  the  rules  of  art.  It  is  all  striving  after  effect.  And 
he  finds  fault  with  Rossini!  It  is  utterly  dry  and  dismal." 

Weber  returned  to  Dresden  with  but  a  single  happy  memory  of 
his  stay  in  Vienna — the  cordial  friendliness  of  Beethoven,  whose 
music  he  had  at  last  come  to  appreciate.  He  had  lately  staged 
Fidelio  with  loving  care  after  consulting  the  master  about  every 
difficult  point,  and  had  become  a  leading  interpreter  of  his  piano 
sonatas.  Beethoven  expressed  great  admiration  for  Der  Freischiltz, 
and  assured  Weber  that  he  would  have  attended  the  first  night  of 
Euryanthe  if  he  had  not  been  deaf.  But  it  needed  more  than  Bee- 
thoven's admiration  to  bolster  up  Weber's  flagging  spirits,  his 
mortally  wounded  self-esteem.  Tuberculosis  was  gaining  on  him  so 
rapidly  that  his  horrified  friends  saw  him  become  an  old  man  in 
the  course  of  a  few  months.  During  r824  he  stuck  close  to  his  offi- 
cial duties,  and  it  was  at  about  this  time  that  the  young  Wagner, 
"with  something  akin  to  religious  awe,"  saw  the  thin  stooped 
figure  going  to  and  from  rehearsals  at  the  opera,  and  occasionally 
stopping  in  to  talk  with  Frau  Geyer,  the  boy's  mother.  That 
summer,  however,  Weber  received  an  invitation  from  Charles 

222  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Kemble,  that  "first-rate  actor  of  second-rate  parts/'  who  was  then 
the  lessee  of  Covent  Garden,  to  compose  an  opera  in  English  for 
London.  After  protracted  negotiations,  the  bait  was  increased — 
Benedict  says  to  £1000 — and  Weber  could  not  refuse,  even  when 
his  doctor  warned  him  that  only  complete  idleness  could  assure 
him  of  living  more  than  a  few  months:  he  had  to  think  of  the 
future  of  his  wife  and  son.  Moreover,  Caroline  was  well  advanced 
in  her  second  pregnancy.  He  wrote  Kemble  his  acceptance,  and 
energetically  set  about  learning  English,  to  such  effect  that  within 
a  year  he  was  speaking  it  fluently. 

Weber  began  to  compose  his  last  opera — Oberon.,  or  The  Elf 
King's  Oath — on  January  23,  1825.  The  libretto,  an  adaptation  by 
an  English  Huguenot,  James  Robinson  Planche,  of  an  English 
translation  of  a  German  version  of  an  old  French  romance,  ar- 
rived at  Weber's  house  piecemeal,  and  so  the  composer  was  long 
left  in  the  dark  as  to  the  final  direction  of  the  drama  he  was  il- 
lustrating. The  story  of  Oberon  is  as  complicated  as  that  of  Eury- 
antke,  and  even  sillier  (after  the  first  performance,  Planche  said  to 
Weber,  "Next  time  we  will  show  them  what  we  really  can  do"!). 
The  scene  shifts  bafflingly  from  fairyland  to  Charlemagne's  court 
to  Baghdad,  while  true  love  remains  true  in  the  face  of  the  most 
preposterous  temptations.  The  setting  of  this  lamentable  farrago 
was  pursued  throughout  1825,  and  the  following  February  Weber, 
with  Oberon  all  but  complete,  left  Dresden  on  his  last  journey.  He 
stopped  off  at  Paris  to  visit  Cherubini  and  Auber,  and  to  make  his 
peace  with  Rossini.  The  pathetic  scene  between  the  two  men  is 
vividly  described  by  the  generous  Italian: 

"Immediately  the  poor  man  saw  me  he  thought  himself  obliged 
to  confess  .  .  .  that  in  some  of  his  criticisms  he  had  been  too  severe 
on  my  music.  .  .  .  'Don't  let's  speak  of  it,'  I  interrupted. .  .  .  'Allow 
me  to  embrace  you.  If  my  friendship  can  be  of  any  value  to  you,  I 
offer  it  with  all  my  heart.  .  .  .' 

"He  was  in  a  pitiable  state:  livid  in  the  face,  emaciated,  with  a 
terrible,  dry  cough — a  heartrending  sight.  A  few  days  later,  he  re- 
turned to  ask  me  for  a  few  letters  of  introduction  in  London.  Aghast 
at  the  thought  of  seeing  him  undertake  such  a  journey  in  such  a 
state,  I  tried  to  dissuade  him,  telling  him  that  he  was  committing 
suicide,  nothing  less.  In  vain,  however.  CI  know,'  he  answered, 

WEBER  223 

CI  shall  die  there;  but  I  must  go.  I  have  got  to  produce  Oberon  in 
accordance  with  the  contract  I  have  signed;  I  must  go.5" 

Warmed  by  Rossini's  magnanimity,  and  inspired  by  the  lavish 
praises  of  Cherubim,  whom  he  revered,  Weber  left  Paris  on  March 
2,  and  was  in  London  three  days  later,  making  his  headquarters  at 
the  house  of  Sir  George  Smart,  a  distinguished  conductor.  The 
next  day  he  went  to  inspect  Covent  Garden,  and  was  recognized 
and  warmly  cheered  by  the  audience — Der  Freischutz  was  the  rage 
of  London,  and  at  one  time  had  been  playing  simultaneously  at 
three  theaters.  A  few  days  later,  rehearsals  began,  and  Weber  at 
once  realized  that  he  had  found  his  ideal  company.  Braham  and 
Paton,  respectively  the  Max  and  the  Agathe  of  the  first  English 
Freischutz,  were  secured  for  the  roles  of  the  lovers,  and  the  scarcely 
less  important  role  of  Fatima  was  entrusted  to  Mme  Vestris — 
precisely  the  kind  of  stellar  cast  a  devotee  of  opera  would  give  his 
soul  to  have  heard.  Weber  appreciated  Braham  so  much  that  he 
broke  a  lifelong  rule,  and  wrote  two  special  tenor  numbers  for  him. 
The  rehearsals  went  beautifully,  and  the  first  performance,  on 
April  12,  1826,  was  felt  by  Weber  to  have  approached  perfection. 
The  audience  thought  so  too,  and  he  was  able  to  write  with  deep 
thanksgiving  to  his  beloved  Caroline: 

"Thanks  to  God  and  to  His  all-powerful  will  I  obtained  this 
evening  the  greatest  success  of  my  life.  The  emotion  produced  by 
such  a  triumph  is  more  than  I  can  describe.  To  God  alone  belongs 
the  glory.  When  I  entered  the  orchestra,  the  house,  crammed  to  the 
roof,  burst  into  a  frenzy  of  applause.  Hats  and  handkerchiefs  were 
waved  in  the  air.  The  overture  had  to  be  executed  twice,  as  had 
also  several  pieces  in  the  opera  itself.  At  the  end  of  the  representa- 
tion,, I  was  called  on  the  stage  by  the  enthusiastic  acclamations  of 
the  public;  an  honor  which  no  composer  had  ever  before  obtained 
in  England." 

Oberon  is  not  really  an  opera.  It  is,  rather,  a  drama  with  inci- 
dental music:  when  the  action  is  going  on,  the  music  is  stilled,  and 
the  music,  paradoxically,  weaves  its  atmospheric  spells  only  when 
the  action  is  suspended.  It  is  therefore  not  surprising  that  it  has 
failed  to  hold  the  stage.  The  only  vocal  number  still  popular  is 
"Ocean,  thou  mighty  monster,"  a  gigantic  soprano  scena  which  ad- 
mirably displays  at  its  best  Weber's  magnificent  if  reckless  han- 
dling of  the  human  voice,  and  which  foreshadows  in  effect  if  not 

224  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

in  style  those  epic  battles  Wagner  staged  between  voice  and  or- 
chestra. Its  melody,  too,  is  the  climax  of  the  most  popular  of 
Weber's  overtures,  by  far  the  most  nicely  constructed  of  his  purely 
orchestral  pieces.  Much  of  the  other  music  in  Oberon  is  thoroughly 
delightful  as  well  as  dramatically  clever,  and  there  is  no  reason  to 
believe  that  a  concert  version  omitting  the  spoken  dialogue  would 
not  be  popular.  Salvaging  the  libretto  itself  is  quite  out  of  the 

The  dying  man  became  a  favorite  not  only  of  the  populace  hut 
also  of  the  Duchess  of  Kent  (who  was  not  fashionable,  even  though 
her  daughter  Victoria  was  almost  certain  to  become  Queen  of 
England),  and  of  certain  other  minor  royalties.  Possibly  as  a  result 
of  this.,  the  nobility  held  aloof,  and  on  the  few  occasions  when  Carl 
Maria  von  Weber  appeared  as  a  pianist  at  fashionable  gatherings, 
he  was  >used  scurvily,  made  to  sit  apart  from  the  guests,,  refused  the 
common  politeness  of  silence  while  he  played,  and  in  every  way 
treated  as  the  inferior  of  the  Italian  -singers  who  were  the  rage  of 
the  day.  But  the  pay  was  good,  and  to  the  very  end  Weber  was 
obsessed  by  the  necessity  of  leaving  his  family  well  provided  for. 
Unfortunately,  a  concert  on  the  proceeds  of  which  he  had  relied 
was  scheduled  for  Derby  Day — May  26 — and  many  of  the  most 
famous  musicians  in  England  performed  mainly  to  empty  seats. 

This  was  Weber's  last  appearance  in  public.  Daily  he  grew 
weaker,  and  though  preparations  for  his  return  to  Germany  pro- 
ceeded apace,  it  was  soon  apparent  to  all  but  the  dying  man  him- 
self that  his  own  prophecy  to  Rossini,  that  he  would  die  in  Eng- 
land, was  about  to  come  true.  On  the  morning  of  July  6y  1826,  a 
servant  found  him  dead  in  bed.  He  was  not  yet  forty  years  of  age. 
He  was  buried  in  London  in  the  presence  of  a  tremendous  crowd, 
and  rested  there  until  1844,  when  his  wife  petitioned  to  have  his  re- 
mains brought  back  to  the  family  vault  in  Dresden.*  Wagner,  who 
had  been  one  of  the  leaders  in  the  movement  to  ,get  Weber's  body 
for  -Gernmany,  arranged  from  Euryanthe  the  special  music  for  the 
reinterment,  and  delivered  a  stirring  oration  at  the  tomb. 

Today  we  hear  so  little  of  Weber's  music  that  it  is  easy  to  forget 
how  strongly  he  influenced  other  composers.  With  a  literary  bent 

*  The  intendant  of  the  opera  was  against  the  whole  idea  on  the  grounds  that  it 
might  furnish  a  precedent  for  exhuming  the  body  of  any  Dresden  Kapellmeister  who 
happened  to  die  out  of  town. 

WEBER  225 

as  marked  as  Schumann's,  he  gave  to  his  operas — the  most  char- 
acteristic, and  certainly  the  most  important,  products  of  his  .genius 
— a  definitely  extramusical  quality  that  asserted  itself  in  innova- 
tions of  varying  degrees  of  merit,  but  all  broadly  suggestive  to 
rebels  and  questioners  of  the  past.  His  interest  in  folklore,  par- 
ticularly in  its  more  violent  and  macabre  aspects,  his  excessive 
nationalism,  and  his  hankering  after  the  overwrought  had,  to- 
gether and  separately,  a  vast  progeny.  Schumann,  Berlioz,  Chopin, 
and  Liszt  marched,  at  one  time  or  another,  under  his  flamboyant 
banner.  He  poured  new  color  into  the  orchestra.  Looking  at  every 
field  of  composition  through  exaggeratedly  theatrical  eyes,  ke 
composed  acres  of  now  unplayed  virtuoso  pieces,  themselves  too 
essentially  febrile,  too  dependent  on  mere  surface  effects,  to  last, 
but  which  gave  strong  hints  to  Liszt  and  others  of  his  stripe. 
Weber's  final  epitaph  must  be,  however,  that  he  made  German 
opera  respectable.  With  a  bold  gesture,  he  turned  his  hack  on  the 
past,  and  on  the  ridiculous  fallacy  that  German  opera  must  be 
Italian  or  it  could  not  be  good.  Weber's  stand  gave  courage  to 
Wagner  when  he  needed  it,  and  nothing  more  fitting  can  be  con- 
ceived than  the  forger  of  Der  Ring  des  Nibelungen  pronouncing  the 
panegyric  on  the  composer  of  Euryanthe* 

Chapter  IX 

Gioacchino  Antonio  Rossini 

(Pesaro,  February  29,   lygs-November   13,   1868,  Paris) 

IN  MARCH,  1860,  a  young  composer  who  was  desperately  trying  to 
win  the  battle  of  musical  Paris,  made  a  respectful  call  on  a 
portly  old  gentleman  who.,  having  won  that  battle  many  years 
before,  now  sat  godlike  above  the  strife  and  storm.  Later,  the 
creator  of  Der  Ring  des  Mbelungen,  recollecting  this  meeting,  de- 
clared that  his  host  was  "the  only  person  I  had  so  far  met  in  the 
artistic  world  who  was  really  great  and  worthy  of  reverence.5' 
Nowadays  we  would  think  twice  before  speaking  in  such  terms  of 
the  composer  of  The  Barber  of  Seville — for  Wagner's  host  was 
Rossini — and  the  very  fact  that  Weber's  greatest  successor  as 
champion  of  German  opera  so  emphatically  expressed  his  esteem 
for  one  whom  his  master  had  regarded  as  a  fabricator  of  tawdry 
and  frivolous  tunes  makes  us  feel  that  the  current  low  opinion  of 
Rossini  (precisely  Weber's)  needs  revising.  As  that  opinion  is  based 
largely  on  performances  of  the  overtures  to  William  Tell  and  Semira- 
mide  by  brass  bands,  for  which  they  were  not  written,  and  overen- 
thusiastic  renditions  of  the  "Largo  al  factotum"  it  has  not  un- 
naturally overlooked  the  excellent  musical  ideas  in  which  those 
pieces  abound.  Wagner's  opinion,  on  the  other  hand,  grew  out  of 
an  acquaintance  with  many  of  Rossini's  operas  sung  by  the  great- 
est singers  of  the  time.  Wagner's  opinions  were  seldom  haphazard, 
and  though  he  was  equally  well  acquainted  with  the  operas  of 
Donizetti,  there  is  no  record  that  he  ever  expressed  any  admiration 
for  the  composer  of  Lucia  di  Lammermoor. 

Whether  Weber  or  Wagner  was  nearer  the  truth  about  Rossini's 
music,  the  man  himself  is  one  of  the  most  fascinating  figures  in 
the  history  of  the  arts.  He  began  his  unusual  career  by  being  born 
on  the  last  day  of  a  leap-year  February.  His  father  combined  the 
offices  of  town  trumpeter  and  inspector  of  slaughterhouses  at 
Pesaro,  a  little  Adriatic  seaport;  his  mother,  a  baker's  daughter, 
was  extremely  pretty,  and  from  her  Gioacchino  inherited  his  good 
looks.  The  Rossinis  quite  equaled  the  Webers  in  nomadic  habits, 
and  while  they  wandered  from  theater  to  theater,  Giuseppe  play- 



ing  the  horn  and  Anna  singing,  the  boy  was  left  with  relatives  in 
Pesaro.  He  grew  up  like  a  weed,  had  practically  no  schooling,  and 
was  nothing  more  than  a  street  arab.  His  first  music  teacher  played 
the  piano  with  only  two  fingers,  and  went  to  sleep  during  lessons. 
Item:  not  much  progress  was  made,  and  there  seemed  to  be 
method  to  his  father's  apprenticing  him  to  a  blacksmith  after  the 
family  was  reunited  in  the  village  of  Lugo.  But  Gioacchino  showed 
a  new  tractability,  also  a  vast  yearning  for  more  musical  instruc- 
tion. So  he  was  turned  over  to  a  priest,  who  taught  him  to  sing  and 
inspired  him  with  such  a  love  of  Haydn  and  Mozart  that  he  be- 
came known,  later  on,  as  "the  little  German." 

Removal  to  Bologna  meant  better  teachers,  though  not  always 
more  congenial  ones.  Rossini  learned  several  instruments,  and  his 
fresh  soprano  voice  was  in  much  demand,  mainly  in  churches.  It  is 
recorded,  too,  that  in  1805  he  played  a  child's  role  in  an  opera.  The 
next  year,  the  Accademia  Filarmonica  elected  him  a  fellow,  just 
as  they  had  his  idol  Mozart,  thirty-six  years  before,  at  precisely  the 
same  age.  Gratified,  he  enrolled  at  the  Liceo,  and  entered  the 
counterpoint  class  of  Padre  Mattei,  a  redoubtable  pedant  whose 
method  was  to  treat  his  pupils  as  so  many  peas  in  a  pod,  and  who 
almost  killed  Rossini's  enthusiasm.  Not  quite,  however,  for  he  be- 
gan to  compose,  and  even  won  a  medal  in  counterpoint.  But  he  did 
not  finish  his  course,  as  his  family's  growing  destitution  made  it 
necessary  for  him  to  skip  fugue  in  order  to  help  support  them  by 
various  musical  odd  jobs. 

Rossini  was  eighteen  when  he  left  the  Liceo,  and  fairly  ill 
equipped  to  hang  out  his  shingle  as  a  professional  composer.  That 
did  not  hinder  him  from  accepting  a  commission  to  do  a  one-act 
opera  for  the  Teatro  San  Mose  at  Venice.  American  subjects  seem 
to  be  too  exotic  for  Italian  composers:  the  Canadian  villain  of  La 
Cambiale  di  matrimonio  is  about  as  credible  as  the  cowpunchers  of 
Puccini's  The  Girl  of  the  Golden  West,  and  the  music  cannot  be  very 
much  worse.  The  tiny  opera  was  a  success,  and  so  Rossini,  with 
coins  jingling  in  his  pockets  and  his  head  in  the  clouds,  returned 
to  Bologna.  Never  was  so  popular  and  prolific  a  talent  launched 
with  so  little  fanfare.  San  Mose  was  not  one  of  the  really  big  houses, 
but  the  applause,  that  November  night  in  1810,  gave  Rossini  the 
idea  that  opera  could  be  a  profitable  business.  As  with  George 
Sand  and  her  novels,  composing  operas  was  as  easy  for  him  as 

228  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

turning  on  a  faucet:  during  the  next  nineteen  years  he  composed 
almost  forty  of  them,  sometimes  at  the  rate  of  five  a  year.  Within 
six  years  of  his  debut  at  Venice,  he  had  achieved  performances  at 
both  of  Italy's  leading  theaters — the  San  Carlo  at  Naples  and  La 
Scala  at  Milan — and  had  written  the  most  popular  opera  of  the 
nineteenth  century. 

After  a  false  start  in  1 8 1 1,  Rossini  produced,  the  next  year,  three 
successes  and  three  failures — all  equally  forgotten,  though  Tos- 
canini  has  a  fondness  for  the  overture  to  La  Scala  di  seta — a  brightly 
colored  puppy  chasing  its  tail.  Another  of  them — La  Pietra  del 
paragone — was  mounted  at  La  Scala  in  the  autumn,  and  was 
Rossini's  first  important  success.  In  the  overture  occurs  the  earliest 
of  those  long  crescendos  which  eventually  degenerated  into  a  mere 
mannerism,  but  which  created  a  great  furore  at  the  time.  The  de- 
vice was  not  original  with  this  master  of  musical  trickery:  he  had 
lifted  it  from  others  who  did  not  know  its  strength,  but  it  helped 
largely  in  securing  fifty  performances  for  La  Pietra  del  paragone 
the  first  season.  With  Napoleon's  recruiting  sergeants  active 
throughout  Lombardy,  it  was  lucky  for  Rossini  that  the  general 
commanding  in  Milan  was  a  devotee  of  La  Pietra:  he  exempted  its 
composer  from  service — a  lucky  break  for  the  French  army, 
Rossini  said..  A  rich  crop  of  false  stories  has  grown  up  about  many 
of  those  early  operas,  but  the  truth  of  one  story  that  sounds  like  a 
myth  is  attested  by  the  score  itself.  Finding  that  a  certain  contralto 
had  only  one  good  note  in  her  voice — middle  B  flat — be  wrote  for 
her  an  aria  in  which  the  orchestra  carries  the  melody  while  she 
repeats  B  flat  ad  infinitum.  The  audience  (who  customarily  chat- 
tered and  ate  sherbet  at  that  given  point  in  the  second  act  when 
the  poor  seconda  donna  stepped  forward  to  do  her  stint)  applauded 
in  a  rapture,,  the  singer  was  transported  at  being  noticed  at  all, 
and  the  composer  patted  himself  on  the  back. 

Rossini  wrote  only  four  operas  in  1813,  the  first  of  which — R 
Signor  Bruschino—vfa.&  first  produced  in  the  United  States  in  De- 
cember, 1932,  at  the  Metropolitan,  as  a  curtain  raiser  to  Richard 
Strauss3  Elektm—z.  clever  stroke  of  musical  contrast  that  left  the 
conservatives  in  the  audience  with  an  uneasy  feeling  that  they 
had  won  a  famous  victory.  The  libretto  is  a  wearisome  comedy  of 
errors  based  on  willfully  mistaken  identities,  which  Rossini  has 
honored  with  a  delicious  and  lighthearted  score.  As  it  abounds  m 


outrageously  bujfa  effects,  the  Venetians  suspected  that  he  was  pok- 
ing fun  at  them,  and  would  have  none  of  Mr.  Bruschino  and  his 
son.  Offenbach  revised  it  for  the  frivolous  Parisians  of  the  Second 
Empire;  they  took  it  to  their  hearts,  and  today  it  is  the  earliest  of 
Rossini's  operas  likely  to  remain  in  the  roster.  Far  different  was  the 
effect  on  the  Venetians  of  Tancredi^  a  serious  opera  cut  on  rather 
grandiose  lines,  and  based  on  Voltaire  out  of  Tasso.  The  overture, 
though  borrowed  from  an  earlier  opera,  smote  the  first-nighters 
with  an  impact  of  spurious  freshness,  and  one  of  the  arias — "D£ 
tanti  palpiti" — caught  like  wildfire,  and  overnight  became  a  public 
nuisance.  In  Tancredi,  Rossini  took  a  hint  from  Mozart,  and  began 
to  give  the  orchestra  a  more  important  and  expressive  role  than 
Italian  composers  usually  did.  His  next  offering  to  Venice,  which 
he  now  held  completely  in  thrall,  was  a  comedy — Ultaliana  in 
Algeri.  Pitts  Sanborn  has  called  this  delicious  entertainment,  with 
its  echoes  of  Haydn,  Mozart,  and  Ciniarosa,  "one  of  the  glories  of 
Rossini's  youthful  years,  when  melodies  bubbled  as  birds  sing, 
when  his  slyness  and  his  incomparable  wit  had  all  of  their  joyous 
recklessness."  The  overture  has  survived  precisely  because  it 
crystallizes  those  qualities. 

At  twenty-one  the  Swan  of  Pesaro  (for  such  was  the  nickname  of 
this  stout,  floridly  handsome  young  man  with  a  pleasing  tenor 
voice)  was  the  most  successful  composer  in  Italy,  and  though  he 
never  made  a  fortune  until  he  left  the  country,  he  was  already  sup- 
porting himself  and  his  parents  in  comfort.  And  now,  with  two 
tremendous  hits,  he  felt  established.  His  next  three  operas  were 
flops,  more  or  less  deservedly.  About  the  third  of  these  Rossini 
himself  had  no  illusions:  he  always  had  a  tender  spot  in  his  heart 
for  the  Venetians  for  listening  to  it  in  silent  martyrdom  rather 
than  throwing  brickbats  at  him.  Possibly  because  of  a  feeling  that 
he  might  be  going  stale,  he  retired  to  Bologna  for  several  months  to 
be  with  his  parents  (his  devotion  to  his  mother  was  always  mor- 
bidly intense)  and  to  think  things  out.  This  last  was  a  difficult  job, 
considering  that  as  a  result  of  Bonaparte's  escape  from  Elba  the 
town  was  soon  swarming  with  Murafs  insolent  troopers.  Rossini's 
solitude  was  rudely  but  welcomely  invaded  by  Domenico  Barbaia, 
a  preposterous  fellow  who  had  risen  from  the  scullery  to  the  direc- 
tion of  Italy's  most  important  opera  houses.  He  now  bestrode  the 
musical  life  of  Naples  like  a  colossus,  and  had  come  to  offer  Rossini 

230  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

— nay,  to  dictate  that  he  take — a  position  as  his  chief  of  staff.  The 
terms  were  fair  enough,  and  by  the  middle  of  1815  Rossini  was 
established  in  his  new  home. 

Never  did  Rossini  play  his  cards  better.  Realizing  that  Barbaia's 
Spanish  mistress,  Isabella  Colbran,  was  the  real  power  at  the  San 
Carlo,  he  soon  was  on  such  a  footing  with  her  that  supplanting  the 
impresario  in  her  affections  was  merely  a  matter  of  waiting  for  the 
strategic  moment.  He  set  out  cold-bloodedly  to  compose  an  opera 
— Elisabetta,  regina  £ Inghilterra — that  would  display  the  special 
qualities  of  her  voice  and  acting  ability.  The  sumptuously  cos- 
tumed role,  teeming  with  situations  that  ill  befit  a  virgin  queen, 
gave  her  a  wonderful  chance  to  show  off  her  statuesque  beauty. 
Colbran  played  the  part  to  the  hilt:  her  acting  rather  than  his 
music  captured  Naples  for  Rossini.  Probably  the  most  signal  proof 
of  the  diva's  affection  for  him  was  that  she  allowed  him  to  write 
out  the  vocal  ornaments  in  her  arias.  This  simple  action,  which 
today  is  taken  for  granted,  seemed  revolutionary  to  singers  ac- 
customed to  embellish  their  melodic  line  with  improvised  orna- 
ments that  sometimes  completely  distorted  it. 

With  Venice,  Milan,  and  Naples  in  his  pocket,  Rossini  took  a 
leave  of  absence,  and  laid  siege  to  Rome.  But  for  a  siege  one  needs 
siege  guns — and  he  had  provided  himself  with  birdshot.  The 
Romans  hissed  his  insultingly  careless  offering,  and  the  perpe- 
trator of  the  outrage  sent  his  mother  a  drawing  of  a  large,  straw- 
covered  bottle  known  throughout  Italy  as  &  fiasco.  Fortunately  for 
him,  he  had  signed  the  contract  for  his  second  Roman  opera  be- 
fore this  rashly  ventured  premiere.  This  time  he  himself  selected  the 
libretto — a  version  of  Beaumarchais5  Le  Barbier  de  Seville — and 
worked  on  it  with  such  ardor  that  within  a  fortnight  he  had  pro- 
duced a  complete  opera.  One  of  the  reasons  that  he  finished  it  so 
expeditiously  was  that  he  borrowed  numbers  from  five  of  his  earlier 
operas.  However,  the  new  material  is  so  fresh,  so  apparently 
eternal,  that,  even  with  his  wholesale  plagiarizings  from  himself, 
his  accomplishment  remains  a  miracle.  Verdi,  himself  an  occa- 
sional high-speed  artist,  only  partly  explained  it  away  by  saying 
that  Rossini  must  have  been  revolving  the  music  in  his  mind  long 
before  he  began  to  write  it  down. 

First  produced  at  the  Teatro  di  Torre  Argentina  on  February 
20,  1816,  The  Barber  of  Seville  was  a  resounding  failure.  Out  of 


deference  to  the  aged  Giovanni  Paisiello,  who  for  almost  half  a 
century  had  held  musical  sway  over  Naples,  and  whose  setting  of 
the  same  Beaumarchais  libretto  had  once  been  popular,  and  was 
still  well  known  in  Italy,  Rossini  introduced  his  own  version  under 
the  title  of  Almaviva,  ossia  V  inutile  precauzione.  Useless  precaution  it 
was,  indeed,  for  Paisiello  from  his  very  deathbed — he  died  early 
the  following  June — seems  to  have  posted  a  claque  in  the  house  in 
order  to  strangle  the  opera  in  its  cradle.  With  the  help  of  several 
ludicrous  accidents,  Paisiello's  plotting  ruined  the  first  night. 
Rossini  rushed  home  sure  that  all  was  lost,  though  \vhen  some 
friends  came  to  console  him  he  was  asleep — or  pretending  to  be. 
The  next  night  he  absented  himself  on  a  plea  of  illness.  This  time 
his  friends  roused  him  with  better  news:  the  Romans  had  showrn  a 
measured  but  definite  liking  for  The  Barber.  Other  cities  made  up 
for  Rome's  reticence.  Within  a  season  or  two,  it  became  the  rage 
of  Italy,  and  then — in  a  space  of  but  few  years — of  Europe.  On 
November  29,  1825,  ^ess  than  ten  years  after  its  premiere,  it  reached 
New  York* — the  first  opera  to  be  sung  there  in  Italian — brought 
thither  by  Manuel  Garcia,  the  original  Almaviva  of  the  Rome 
cast.  It  became  the  most  popular  opera  of  the  nineteenth  century, 
and  though  newer  operas  have  forced  it  from  first  place,  it  shows 
no  signs  of  being  shelved.  Today  Rossini's  Barber  is  more  than  a 
century  and  a  quarter  old,  and  still  in  the  best  of  health. 

As  one  of  the  two  signal  triumphs  of  the  pure  buffa  spirit  in 
music,  The  Barber  of  Seville  ranks  with  Le  Nozze  di  Figaro.  Both  are 
based  on  Beaumarchais — they  are,  in  fact,  Books  I  and  II  of  the 
same  great  story — but  there,  in  the  deepest  sense,  the  resemblance 
ends.  Where  Mozart  is  delicate  and  witty,  Rossini  is  deft  and 
comic.  Both  the  Austrian  and  the  Italian  are  sophisticated,  but  of 
Rossini's  of-the-world  worldliness  there  is  no  trace  in  Mozart.  Le 
Nozze  rises  to  ineffable  tenderness  in  its  love  scenes;  The  Barber  is 
supremely  the  music  of  gallantry — gay,  mocking,  kno\ving,  of  un- 
flawed  superficiality.  Best  to  sum  up  the  difference  between  these 
two  masterpieces,  one  must  call  in  the  aid  of  metaphysics:  The 
Barber  is  a  great  opera  bujfai  Le  Nozze  is  a  great  opera  in  the  buffa 

The  Barber  abounds  in  music  which  for  sheer  gaiety,  brio,  and 
irreverence  has  never  been  surpassed.  Hardened  operagoers  will 

*  An  abridged  version  had  been  presented  there  as  early  as  1819. 

232  MEN    CXF    MUSIC 

not  be  inclined  to  dispute  the  statement  that  it  is  one  of  a  pitiably- 
meager  number  of  operas  that  are  long  but  seem  short.  The  pace  is 
breathless,  from  the  brilliant  overture*  to  the  hearty  finale  where 
all  loose  ends  are  tied  together  in  the  tidiest  way  possible.  That 
immortal  piece  of  nose-thumbing,  the  "Largo  al  factotum"  comes 
dangerously  early  in  the  first  act,  but  what  follows  is  so  good  that 
there  is  no  sense  of  anticlimax.  A  half  hour  later  comes  "Una  voce 
poco  fa"  an  extravagant  but  singularly  apt  outburst  of  vocal 
bravura.  A  fine  bass  aria  (Rossini  was  one  of  the  first  to  use  this 
voice  importantly  in  opera)  known  as  the  "Calumny  Song"  was 
made  the  focal  point  of  a  remarkable — possibly  (since  it  tended  to 
upset  the  equilibrium  of  the  opera  as  a  whole)  a  too  remarkable — 
performance  by  the  late  Feodor  Chaliapin.  To  list  the  good  things 
in  The  Barber  would  be  to  name  substantially  every  number  in  it. 
However,  some  absurdities  have  crept  in,,  notably  in  the  "Lesson 
Scene."  Rossini  had  written  some  very  effective  music  for  the  con- 
tralto who  created  the  role  of  Rosina,  but  when  it  was  transposed 
for  coloratura  soprano  (then,  as  now,  wanting  to  outdo  the  flute), 
the  original  music  was  discarded,  and  the  Rosina  of  the  occasion 
allowed  to  choose  her  own,  her  own  usually  being  anything  suffi- 
ciently gymnastic  and  unmusical.  That  superb  showwoman^ 
Adelina  Patti,  considered  by  oldsters  as  the  greatest  of  Rosinas, 
first  discovered  that  she  could  actually  interpolate  such  an  anach- 
ronistic, and  voice-resting,  ditty  as  Home,  Sweet  Home,  and  get 
away  with  it.  She  had,  in  fact,,  nothing  quite  so  sure-fire  in  her  bag 
of  tricks. 

Back  in  Naples  after  The  Barber,  Rossini  rested.  In  September, 
he  brought  out  a  flop,  and  then,  toward  the  end  of  the  year,  burst 
forth  like  a  nova,  composing — in  the  six-month  period  from  De- 
cember, 1816,  to  May,  1817 — three  of  his  finest  scores.  Colbran 
was  by  now  his  obsession,  and  he  strove  to  find  a.  role  that  would 
display  the  more  pathetic  side  of  her  histrionic  ability.  That  of 
Desdemona,  in  Shakespeare's  Othello,  seemed  promising.  So  far,  so 
good.  But  next,  as  if  bent  upon  proving  that  bis  choice  of  an  effec- 
tive libretto  for  The  Barber  had  been  utterly  fortuitous,  he  allowed  a 
highborn  hack  to  tinker  with  the  story.  The  resulting  ravages, 
briefly,  were  these:  the  Moor  was  reduced  to  a  bundle  of  nerves, 

*  Not  the  original  one,  which  was  lost  soon  after  the  first  Rome  season.  What  we 
hear  had  done  service,  for  two,  earlier  operas  before  being  attached  to.  Tk&  Barber. 


lago  became  a  Relentless  Rudolph,  and  Desdemona  became  even 
more  feeble-minded  than  she  is  in  Shakespeare.*  Rossini  lavished 
on  this  pitiable  makeshift  some  of  his  most  beautiful  music,  par- 
ticularly in  the  third  act  (which  the  librettist  had  tampered  with 
least)  ,  and  everything  about  Otello  bespeaks  his  earnest  devotion  to 
the  task  of  creating  a  serious  opera.  Here,  for  the  first  time,  Italian 
opera  caught  up  with  the  up-to-date  productions  of  the  French  and 
German  composers:  the  piano-supported  recitative  was  abandoned 
for  continuous  orchestral  background,  thus  permitting  whole 
scenes  to  be  conceived  as  uninterrupted  musical  units.  Otello  was 
for  more  than  half  a  century  one  of  the  most  popular  operas  of  the 
standard  repertoire,  and  might  still  be  sung  today  if  it  had  not  been 
superseded  by  one  of  the  masterpieces  of  Verdi's  old  age,  which, 
moreover,  had  the  advantage  of  a  superb  libretto  by  Arrigo  Boito. 

In  La  Cenerentola,  produced  at  Rome  on  January  25,  1817,  Ros- 
sini recoiled  from  seriousness  as  far  as  possible,  reverting  to  buff  a. 
As  he  had  a  lifelong  aversion  to  representing  the  supernatural 
on  the  stage  (in  sharp  contradistinction  to  Weber),  he  instructed 
his  tame  librettist  to  excise  the  fairy  element  from  this  version  of 
the  Cinderella  legend,  and  so  left  the  heroine  little  more  than  a 
poor  slavey  who  outwits  her  flashy,  scheming  sisters  and  dishonest 
father  at  their  own  game.  La  Cenerentola  is  definitely  something  not 
to  take  the  children  to.  The  score  is  second  only  to  that  -of  The 
Barber  in  gaiety  and  glitter,  and  though  the  libretto  leaves  much 
to  be  desired,  the  opera  is  good  entertainment  from  beginning  to 
end.  Unfortunately,  Cinderella  needs  a  florid  mezzo  voice  of  a 
sort  that  is  all  but  extinct,  and  since  the  death  of  Conchita  Su- 
pervia  no  one  has  attempted  to  sing  the  role.  Another  reason  for 
the  opera's  disappearance  from  the  stage  is  that  it  belongs,  as  one 
of  Rossini's  early  biographers  said,  "to  the  composite  order  of 
operatic  architecture3  J:  that  is,  much  of  it,  including  the  overture, 
is  borrowed  indiscriminately  from  his  earlier  operas,  and  therefore 
does  not  fit  the  spirit  of  La  Cemrentola.  He  even  called  in  another 
composer  to  supply  two  arias. 

In  May,  1817,  Rossini  made  a  triumphal  return  to  La  Scala 

*  The  modern  dislike  of  unhappy  endings  is  not  modern.  At  many  performances 
of  Otello^  it  was  found  necessary  to  close  with  a  reconciliation  scene  between  the 
Moor  and  Ms  bride.  When  the  tragedy  was  allowed  to  run  its  course,  the  audience 
turned  the  action  into  farce  by  audibly  warning  Desdemona  that  Othello  was  coin- 
ing to  strangle  her. 

234  MEN   OF 

with  the  third  opera  of  this  notable  group — La  Gazza  ladra,  a 
picaresque  tale  of  a  thieving  magpie.  As  he  was  in  disgrace  with  the 
Milanese  as  the  result  of  two  consecutive  failures  in  their  city,  he 
took  special  pains  with  all  details  of  this  new  work.  He  found  a 
story  with  wide  variety  of  appeal — it  contains  almost  all  type  dra- 
matic situations  except  pure  tragedy — and  set  it  not  only  with 
inspired  intuition  but  also  with  an  intelligent  grasp  of  the  subtle 
relationships  of  character,  incident,  and  music.  He  gave  such  un- 
precedented importance  to  the  orchestra  that  Stendhal,  his  first 
biographer,  complained  of  the  heaviness  of  the  scoring:  up  to  this 
point  he  had  yielded  to  none  in  his  worship  of  Rossini,  but  from 
now  on  he  insisted  on  regarding  him  (with  qualifications)  as  an 
angel  who  had  been  tempted  by  the  Germans,  and  had  fallen.  But 
surrendering  to  the  Germans  was  not  a  mortal  sin  in  1817,  and 
soon  La  Gazza  was  being  sung  from  one  end  of  Europe  to  another. 
In  1833  this  ubiquitous  magpie  came  ashore  at  New  York,  and 
warbled  under  the  aegis  of  no  less  a  personage  than  Mozart's  erst- 
while librettist,  Lorenzo  da  Ponte,  and  was  used  to  inaugurate  the 
city's  first  Italian  opera  house,  at  Church  and  Leonard  Streets. 
Given  an  adequate  cast.  La  Gazza  could  be  successfully  revived 
today:  the  overture  (which  really  has  a  bearing  on  what  follows) 
has  a  symphonic  solidity  and  a  distinction  of  contour  that  place  it 
alongside  that  to  William  Tell,  while  many  of  the  arias  and  con- 
certed numbers  are  among  the  best  Rossini  ever  contrived.  La 
Gazza  might  well  have  passed  the  tests  of  so  severe  a  critic  as  Gluck, 
so  sensitively  does  the  music  further  the  action. 

Little  in  the  next  five  years  of  Rossini's  life  need  detain  anyone 
except  the  professional  student  of  musical  history.  He  wrote  a 
dozen  operas,  most  of  which  were  successful.  Their  titles  mean 
about  as  much  to  us  now  as  those  of  Irving  Berlin's  musical  come- 
dies will  mean  to  our  great-grandchildren.  The  music  is,  in  most 
cases,  as  dead  as  the  librettos,  though  Rossini  later  transformed 
two  of  the  scores  into  extraordinarily  successful  French  operas. 
Many  of  these  productions  he  devised  as  stellar  vehicles  for  Isa- 
bella Colbran,  who  by  this  time  was  openly  his  mistress,  apparently 
with  Barbaia  complaisant.  As  Colbran's  voice  and  beauty  were 
both  fading,  and  as,  on  the  other  hand,  Rossini  was  the  darling  of 
Italy,  it  will  be  understood  why  Barbaia  had  so  little  difficulty  in 
seeing  everything  and  saying  nothing.  Probably  he  was  as  tired  of 


Colbran  as  Naples  was.  On  more  than  one  occasion,  the  excitable 
Neapolitans  flared  out  against  the  aging  Spanish  passion  flower 
whose  tiresome  singing  out  of  tune  they  could  more  easily  forgive 
than  her,  and  Barbaia's,  espousal  of  the  unpopular  royalist  cause. 
Her  sultry  wiles  as  the  Lady  of  the  Lake,  in  a  curious  version  that 
poor  Walter  Scott  would  never  have  recognized,  merely  aroused  a 
derisive  demonstration  Rossini  thought  was  directed  against  him- 
self. A  stagehand  appeared  with  a  request  that  he  take  a  bow. 
Rossini  knocked  the  fellow  down,  and  left  at  once  for  Milan, 
where  he  told  everyone  that  La  Donna  del  lago  had  been  a  bang-up 
success.  This  was  (he  thought)  a  lie.  Meanwhile,  however,  news  of 
the  acclamation  that  greeted  La  Donna's  second  night  had  reached 
Milan,  and  Rossini's  bitter  jest  at  himself  missed  fire. 

On  July  20,  1820,  the  Neapolitans  revolted,  and  drove  Ferdi- 
nand I  from  his  capital,  also  eventually  affecting  the  fortunes  of 
Barbaia,  Colbran,  and  Rossini.  Barbaia,  as  an  avowed  favorite  of 
the  King,  was  temporarily  ruined,  and  began  to  lay  plans  for 
emigrating;  Colbran,  whose  fortunes  still  depended  on  his,  suffered 
further  eclipse;  finally,  Rossini,  tired  of  Naples  anyway,  wras  only 
waiting  for  his  contract  to  run  out,  and  used  the  crowd's  hostility 
to  his  friends  as  a  good  excuse  for  leaving.  The  trio  lingered  in 
Naples  until  February,  1822,  when  Rossini  took  farewell  of  the 
San  Carlo  with  %elmira,  a  score  with  which  he  had  taken  particular 
pains.*  It  was  a  triumph  even  Colbran  seems  to  have  shared,  and 
she  and  Rossini  left  in  a  blaze  of  glory.  The  very  day  after  %elmra 
closed,  they  started  for  Vienna,  where  Barbaia  had  found  a  new 
and  lucrative  berth  for  himself.  They  broke  their  journey  at 
Bologna,  and  there,  on  March  16,  1822,  Gioacchino  Antonio 
Rossini  made  Isabella  Angela  Colbran  a  married  woman.  Whether 
he  married  her  out  of  deference  to  his  mother's  prejudice  in  favor 
of  legitimacy,  or  because  she  had  a  tidy  annual  income,  remains  an 
open  question:  doubtless  both  factors  swayed  Rossini  in  his  deci- 
sion. What  is  certain  is  that  by  the  time  he  got  around  to  marrying 
Colbran,  the  great  days  of  their  romance  were  past.  He  was  thirty, 
she  thirty-seven. 

A  week  after  their  wedding,  the  Rossinis  were  in  Vienna.  The 
dashing  maestro^  fame  was  already  at  the  boiling  point  there,  and 

*  Not,  however,  out  of  love  for  the  Neapolitans.  %elmira  had  been  devised  espe- 
cially for  Vienna,  and  he  was  using  th**,  San  Carlo  merely  as  a  tryout  house. 

236  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

he  had  only  to  make  his  entry  into  the  city  to  carry  all  before  him. 
There  were,  of  course,  anti-Rossinians,  but  they  soon  found  that 
the  most  exasperating  thing  about  Rossini  was  that  it  was  im- 
possible to  fight  him:  he  disarmed  his  enemies  with  a  smile.  Several 
of  his  operas  ware  produced  with  such  success  that  the  sick  and 
nervous  Weber,  struggling  with  the  score  of  Euryanthe,  was  seized 
with  alarm — it  boded  ill  that  German  opera  was  being  betrayed 
in  its  very  citadel.  Vienna  was  soon  in  the  throes  of  Rossiniosis: 
everyone  from  emperor  to  artisan  had  the  symptoms — a  feverish 
rurn-tum-tum  in  the  head  and  a  tripping  tongue.  Austria's  most 
notable  musicians  were  not  immune.,  Schubert  succumbed,  and 
even  Beethoven,  who  was  seeing  no  one,  allowed  the  charmer  to 
wait  upon  him.  The  titan  warned  Rossini  to  stay  away  from 
serious  opera,,  and  advised  him  to  "give  us  plenty  of  Barbers" 
Rossini,  literally  under  the  spell  of  the  "Eroica"  which  he  had  just 
heard  for  the  first  time,  and  outraged  by  the  sordidness  of  Bee- 
thoven's surroundings  and  his  apparent  neglect,,  tried  vainly  to 
persuade  his  own  rich  admirers  to  join  him  in  providing  hand- 
somely for  the  greatest  of  living  composers.  Rossini's  Viennese 
visit  ended  with  a  testimonial  banquet  at  which  he  was  presented 
with  a  silver  vase  containing  thirty-five  hundred  ducats. 

Rossini  was  now  so  famous  that  Metternich  invited  him  to  at- 
tend that  extraordinary  gathering  of  high  society  known  to  history 
as  the  Congress  of  Verona,  pointing  out  that  naturally  the  God  of 
Harmony  was  needed  for  its  success.  Here,  then,  while  the  Holy 
Alliance  dawdled  over  the  Greek  Question  and  the  Spanish  Ques- 
tion and  the  Italian  Question,  Rossini  served  up  a  series  of  com- 
pletely uninspired  cantatas  fitting  to  the  occasion.  He  met  Alexander 
I,  sang  at  a  party  at  the  Duke  of  Wellington's,  and  received  a  large 
collection  of  snuffboxes.  The  Congress  of  Verona  was  not  a  suc- 
cess, musically  or  politically. 

The  hero's  next  destination  was  Venice,  the  scene  of  his  debut. 
His  return  was  inglorious.  The  Venetians  hissed  the  indifferent 
vehicle  he  had  chosen  for  his  reappearance*  though  it  appears  that 
their  real  venom  was  aimed  at  Signora  Rossini,  whose  now 
mediocre  voice  was  not  improved  by  a  throat  ailment.  Rossini 
retired  sulking  to  his  palazzo,  and  in  thirty  days  composed  one  of 
his  longest,  most  carefully  constructed,  and  impressive  works. 
This  was  his  last  Italian  opera,  Semiramide^  the  pompous  but  work- 


able  libretto  of  which  was  furnished  by  that  same  Gaetano  Rossi 
who  had  perpetrated  the  flimsy  nothing  on  which  he  had  first 
tried  his  hand  thirteen  years  before.  On  the  gore  and  incest  of 
Rossi's  monumental  chronicle  of  Babylon's  sensational  queen  and 
her  lover-son,  Rossini  turned  his  full  battery  of  tricks:  a  large 
patchwork  overture  in  quasi-Weberian  style,  vocal  fioriture  of  the 
most  shameless  sort,  a  monstrous  example  of  his  own  peculiar 
crescendo.  These  did  not  suffice  for  the  shattering  effect  at  which 
he  was  aiming,  so  he  put  a  brass  band  on  the  stage.  It  may  not 
sound  so,  but  all  this  was  calculated  to  a  nicety:  after  its  premiere 
on  February  3,  1823,  Semiramide  ran  solidly  for  a  month  at  the 
Fenice,  and  for  several  decades  was  everywhere  considered  Ros- 
sini's chef-d'oeuvre.  There  was  something  in  it  that  got  in  people's 
blood;  it  went  capitally,  it  seems,  with  deep  draughts  of  after- 
dinner  port,  three-decker  romances,  the  Exposition  of  1851,  and 
the  opening  of  the  Crystal  Palace.  But  all  things  pass — even  the 
Crystal  Palace — and  Semiramide  passed  with  the  follies  of  our 
grandparents.  With  quite  amazing  good  taste,  the  Metropolitan 
has  refrained  from  reviving  it  since  1895,  when  the  combined 
talents  of  Melba,  Scalchi,  and  Edouard  de  Reszke  failed  to  re- 
establish it.  Paging  through  its  yellowed  score  is  like  ransacking  a 
what-not:  there  are  some  pretty  and  affecting  odds  and  ends,  but 
an  awful  lot  of  trash.  As  to  the  famous  overture,  it  is  almost  as 
popular  as  that  to  William  Tell.,  and  is  possibly  one  tenth  as  good. 
But  even  it  is  losing  concert  status,  and  is  fast  becoming  a  mere 
brass-band  fixture. 

Composing  Semiramide  silenced  Rossini  for  more  than  two  years, 
and  the  rest  of  Europe's  professional  operatic  composers  breathed  a 
sigh  of  relief.  He  was  by  all  odds  the  most  talked-of  musician  in 
the  world,*  and  was  besieged  by  bids  for  his — and,  tactfully, 
Signora  Rossini's — services.  He  accepted  one  from  the  King's 
Theater  in  London,  probably  intending  to  settle  permanently  in 
England,  On  his  way,  however,  he  saw  Paris,  and  glimpsed  some- 
thing better.  The  charm  of  Parisian  life  and  the  possibility  of  be- 
coming the  arbiter  of  French  music  were  uppermost  in  his  mind 

*  In  1823,  Rossini  could  boast  that  twenty-three  of  his  operas  were  running  in 
various  parts  of  the  world.  The  Sultan  of  Turkey  instructed  his  brass  band  to  play 
selections  from  them,  and  in  far-off,  chaotic  Mexico  one  of  them  was  given  at  Vera 
Cruz.  They  were  the  favorite  music  of  Italy,  Russia,  Portugal,  Spain,  and  South 

238  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

during  the  extremely  uncomfortable  Channel  crossing  and  on  his 
arrival  in  London — it  was  a  hellishly  cold  December  day,  and  he 
had  caught  a  chill.  During  the  season  he  made  175,000  francs, 
was  repeatedly  honored  by  George  IV,  and  was  lavishly  enter- 
tained by  everyone  that  mattered.  The  King  made  a  special  trip 
up  from  Brighton  to  hear  his  fat  friend  sing  at  the  Duke  of  Well- 
ington's house.  Some  of  the  more  serious  Londoners  were  an- 
noyed at  this  expensive  dawdling:  though  his  operas  were  running 
(he  even  sometimes  deigned  to  conduct),  and  he  pretended  to  be 
writing  a  new  opera  for  them  (which  never  materialized) ,  as  far 
as  they  could  see  he  had  become  just  another  Italian  singer.  The 
only  new  work  he  actually  gave  London  was  a  vocal  octet  called 
The  Plaint  of  the  Abuses  on  the  Death  of  Lord  Byron.  While  he  was 
getting  rich  on  the  English,  and  philosophically  doing  nothing 
about  the  shambles  which  was  English  music  in  the  year  1824, 
he  was  negotiating  with  the  French  ambassador  to  return  to  Paris 
and  assume  direction  of  the  Theatre  Italien. 

During  Rossini's  brief  tenure  of  office  at  the  Italien,  he  devoted 
most  of  his  time  to  learning  French  and  studying  Parisian  taste  in 
music.  He  showed  Paris  how  his  own  music  should  be  performed, 
successfully  introducing  several  operas  not  heard  there  before,  and 
winning  his  audience  over  to  others  they  had  disliked  under  earlier 
conductors.  He  launched  Meyerbeer  on  his  career  as  the  eventual 
idol  of  Paris  by  producing  the  best  of  that  parvenu's  Rossinian 
operas  in  1825.  But  as  a  composer  he  himself  seems  to  have  been  in 
a  period  of  slothfulness.  While  at  the  Italien  his  sole  new  offering 
was  a  one-act  opera-cantata — II  Viaggio  a  Reims — which,  more- 
over, was  nothing  but  a  pastiche  of  much  old  material,  a  few  new 
numbers,  and  arrangements  of  seven  national  anthems.  First  pro- 
duced on  June  19,  1825,  •#  Viaggio ,  which  died  after  its  third  per- 
formance, celebrated  Charles  X's  coronation  progress  to  Rheims, 
and  is  notable  for  two  departures  from  Rossini's  usual  tact:  he  set 
an  event  in  French  history  to  Italian  words,  and  its  single  act  lasted 
three  hours. 

Not  unnaturally,  Rossini  was  criticized  as  a  trifler,  and  was  com- 
pared unfavorably  with  serious  people  like  Spontini  and  Weber, 
who  disdained  pastiches.  But  in  Paris,  at  least,  he  had  reasons  for 
idleness.  He  was  ill  and  unnerved  by  the  insecurity  of  his  position, 
for  his  contract  at  the  Italien  was  for  but  eighteen  months.  He  was 


wheedled  into  something  like  his  old  activity  only  by  a  brevet  from 
Charles  X  as  premier  compositeur  du  roi  et  inspecteur  general  du  chant  en 
France,  a  reward  for  his  rehabilitating  labors  at  the  Italien.  Digging 
down  into  his  luggage,  Rossini  extracted  the  manuscript  of 
Maometto  II,  a  second-rate  opera  that  had  persistently  failed.  This 
he  all  but  rewrote  to  the  words  of  a  new  French  libretto,  and  in- 
troduced it  at  the  Opera  on  October  9,  1826,  under  the  title  of 
Le  Siege  de  Corinthe.  Three  factors  assured  its  success:  the  dramatic 
intensity  of  the  music,  a  superb  cast,  and  a  French  libretto  il- 
lustrating an  incident  in  the  Greek  struggle  for  independence  from 
the  Turks.  As  the  Greek  cause  was  very  fashionable  in  Paris  at 
the  time,  and  Rossini  was  well  aware  that  most  of  the  enthusiasm 
at  the  premiere  was  inspired  by  the  cause  and  not  the  music,  he 
tactfully  refrained  from  taking  a  bow.  Soon,  however,  Le  Siege 
established  itself  on  its  musical  merits,  and  Rossini  became  a  suc- 
cessful French  composer. 

The  exacting  standards  of  his  French  confreres  and  audiences 
were  salient  in  shaping  the  unusually  solid  construction  of  Le 
Siege,  and  may  have  been  partly  responsible  for  his  delay  in  writing 
a  large  work  for  the  French  stage.  He  realized,  no  doubt,  that  he 
could  no  longer  get  by  with  his  careless  Italian  formulas.  For  the 
first  time  he  boldly  abandoned  his  elaborate  vocal  ornamentation 
and  superficial  tricks  for  a  larger  architecture  and  a  simpler 
melodic  line.  His  next  effort,  a  resetting  of  Mose  in  Egittoy  which  ii* 
its  Italian  form  had  already  won  favor  in  Paris,  showed  even  more 
clearly  that  Rossini  had  been  converted  to  careful  workmanship. 
Here,  with  a  libretto  completely  lacking  in  fad  appeal,  he  tri- 
umphed more  signally.  Called  simply  Mo'ise,  it  opened  at  the 
Opera  on  March  26,  1827.  ^n  effect  partly  opera,  partly  cantata, 
Mo'ise  is  yet  a  work  of  quite  notable  unity.  Its  choral  writing  is 
often  magnificent,  the  culminating  point  being  the  prayer  of  the 
Jews  for  safe  passage  through  the  Red  Sea.  These  choruses  were  its 
fortune  in  England  when,  because  of  the  prudishness  that  forbade 
Biblical  personages  being  depicted  on  the  stage,  Moise  was  adapted 
there  as  an  oratorio.  It  put  the  final  stamp  of  unqualified  official 
and  popular  approval  on  Rossini.  The  venerable  and  austere 
Cherubini,  from  his  throne  at  the  Conservatoire,  declared  magis- 
terially that  he  was  pleasantly  surprised.  And  Balzac  looked  up 

240  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

from  the  composition  of  La  Comedie  humaine  to  pronounce  Mo'ise  "a 
tremendous  poem  in  music." 

Rossini  should  have  been  supremely  happy — but  he  was  not. 
During  the  final  rehearsals  of  Mom,  he  heard  that  his  mother  had 
died.  He  was  still  tenderly  devoted  to  her,  and  recovered  slowly 
and  painfully  from  the  shock.  He  was  lonely,,  and  now,  desperately 
seeking  some  living  tie  with  his  mother,  invited  his  father  to  come 
and  live  with  him  in  Paris.  From  Isabella  he  asked  no  solace:  a 
coldness  had  grown  up  between  them,  and  for  years  she  had  been 
living  at  her  villa  near  Bologna.  His  father's  presence  gradually 
produced  the  desired  effect:  Rossini  roused  himself  from  his  stupor 
of  grief,  and  admitted  to  himself  that  as  the  ruler  of  musical  Paris 
he  owed  something  to  his  subjects.  He  called  in  Eugene  Scribe, 
the  most  famous  of  French  librettists,  and  together  they  concocted 
a  comic  opera,  Le  Comte  Ory.  No  new  work  had  been  heard  from 
Rossini's  pen  for  seventeen  months,  and  the  first-night  audience 
gave  Le  Comte  an  ovation  on  August  20,  1828.  It  betrays  the  com- 
poser's growing  Frenchification:  it  is  elegant  rather  than  brilliant, 
graceful  rather  than  brisk.  It  contains  much  delightful,  and  some 
really  fine,  music,  notably  the  orchestral  prelude  to  the  second  act, 
which  is  decidedly  Beethovian  in  quality.  But  the  Comte  lacks  The 
Barber's  peculiar  magic.  It  has  never  been  popular  outside  France, 
and  today  if  it  is  ever  revived  elsewhere  (which  seems  unlikely),  it 
will  be  as  a  mere  historical  curiosity — an  ancestor  of  the  still- 
popular  light  operas  of  Offenbach. 

Having  now  successfully  produced  three  French  operas  of  his 
own,  and  fortified  with  a  bank  account  that  allowed  him  to  indulge 
any  whim,  Rossini  decided  that  he  wanted  to  devote  all  his 
energies  to  the  writing  of  opera.  He  petitioned  Charles  X  for  the 
cancellation  of  his  contract,  and  the  granting  of  a  new  one  along 
the  following  lines:  he  promised  to  compose  five  operas  over  a 
ten-year  period,  for  each  of  which  he  was  to  receive  fifteen  thou- 
sand francs  and  a  benefit  performance;  upon  the  expiration,  laps- 
ing, or  voiding  of  this  contract  he  was  to  receive  a  life  pension  of 
six  thousand  francs  per  annum.  With  the  King  and  his  ministers 
mulling  over  these  memoranda,  Rossini  retired  to  the  palatial 
country  seat  of  his  friend,  the  banker  Aguado,  and  began  work  on 
the  first  of  these  proposed  operas.  Fondly  recalling  how  the  fash- 
ionable interest  in  the  rights  of  small  nations  had  clinched  the 


success  of  Le  Siege  de  Corinthe,  he  selected  Schiller's  Wilhelm  Tell 
for  dissection  by  a  trio  of  French  librettists.  They  did  a  singularly 
ugly  piece  of  work,  excelling  in  vast  deserts  of  inactivity  and  flat,, 
unrealized  characterization.  To  this  listless  fabrication  Rossini 
blithely  attached  some  of  his  most  expressive,  and  certainly  his 
most  somber,  music.  This  time  he  firmly  disdained  to  use  any  old 
material.  He  labored  over  his  script  for  at  least  six  months,  and 
then  put  it  into  rehearsal  at  the  Opera.  A  series  of  delays,  more  or 
less  accurately  explained  in  the  press,  raised  anticipation  to  fever 
pitch.  The  truth  was  that  Rossini  was  himself  postponing  the 
premiere:  he  was  using  William  Tell  as  a  lever  to  force  the  signing 
of  the  contract,  and  even  threatened  to  withdraw  the  work  unless 
he  had  his  way.  Charles  X  acceded  in  April,  1829,  and  so,  on 
August  3,  Paris  heard  Rossini's  monstrous  five-acter  for  the  first 

From  the  very  beginning,  the  response  to  William  Tell  must  have 
been  unique  in  Rossini's  experience:  the  people  listened  with 
cold  respect;  the  critics  raved.  And  such,  with  minor  exceptions, 
has  been  its  history  ever  since.  In  its  original  form  it  was  insup- 
portable to  the  audience,  and  after  a  few  performances  drastic 
cuts  were  made.  One  by  one  the  acts  were  sheared  off,  until  finally 
only  Act  II  was  given.  This  process  of  erosion  got  under  Rossini's 
skin.  Years  later,  he  met  the  director  of  the  Opera  on  the  street. 
"We're  giving  the  second  act  of  Tell  tonight,"  the  director  said 
brightly.  "What!  the  whole  act?"  Rossini  replied.  The  bitterness 
of  this  jest  was  too  keen  to  be  relieved  by  the  praises  of  Bellini, 
Mendelssohn,  Wagner,  Verdi,  and  even  Berlioz,  bitterest  of  anti- 

The  low  level  of  expressiveness  in  the  operas  of  the  time  accounts 
for  much  of  the  critical  enthusiasm.  Tell  has  solid  virtues — earnest- 
ness, some  psychological  verisimilitude,  a  certain  understanding  of 
the  architecture  of  large  musical  forms.  Wagner  told  Rossini 
that  in  it  he  had  previsioned — "accidentally,"  Wagner  explained 
— some  Wagnerian  theories  of  music  drama.  Whether  or  not  Tell  is 
indeed  a  spiritual  ancestor  of  Der  Ring  des  Nibelungen,  it  certainly 
foreshadows  Wagner's  symphonic  conception  of  opera.  When  he 
was  composing  Tell,  Rossini  was  profoundly  influenced  by  the 
music  of  Beethoven.  Unfortunately,  this  led  him  to  make  many  of 
the  same  mistakes  his  idol  had  made  in  Fidelio.  There  are  passages 


in  Tell  that  sound  like  excerpts  from  a  symphony  with  an  irrele- 
vant vocal  obbHgato  tacked  on.  And  yet  the  score  is  not  without 
moments  of  singular  beauty.  The  second  act,  besides  being  the 
least  offensive  in  the  libretto,  contains  the  largest  proportion  of 
these,  and  Rossini  always  felt  sure  that  it  would  survive,  along 
with  the  third  act  of  Otello  and  The  Barber  of  Seville  in  its  entirety. 
Telly  even  cut  down  to  three  acts,  is  too  unwieldy  for  modern  taste, 
but  there  is  no  reason  why  a  concert  condensation  made  up  of 
Act  II,  with  a  few  other  such  expressive  numbers  as  Tell's  prayer 
from  Act  III  and  Arnold's  lovely  air  from  Act  IV,  "Asile  keredi- 
taire"  would  not  be  perennially  fresh  and  popular.  Now,  however, 
with  performances  of  Tell  so  few  and  far  between,  what  we  have  to 
judge  it  by  is  the  overture,  a  work  of  great  charm  and  attractive- 
ness. It  is  beyond  question  the  most  popular  music  Rossini  ever 
composed.  It  shows  that  Beethoven  could  really  benefit  him  when 
taken  lightly. 

Rossini  was  thirty-seven  years  old.  At  the  height  of  his  creative 
powers,  and  in  adequate,  if  not  hearty,  health,  he  had  thirty-nine 
more  years  to  live.  The  acknowledged  autocrat  of  opera,  he  now 
went  into  self-imposed  retirement,  and  never  again  wrote  for  the 
operatic  stage.  Except  for  inconsequential  chirpings,  he  broke  his 
silence  only  twice,  with  the  Stabat  Mater  and  the  Petite  Messe 
solennelle,  two  religious  works  in  his  early  buffa  style. 

There  is  no  simple,  adequate  explanation  for  this  strangest  of 
all  abdications.  Our  natural  impulse  is  to  take  Rossini's  own  words 
about  the  matter.  The  trouble  is  that  he  told  different  things  to 
different  people  on  the  few  occasions  when  he  deigned  to  explain, 
and  thus  contrived  effectually  to  throw  dust  in  the  eyes  of  pos- 
terity— a  sport  at  which  he  was  singularly  adept.  Sometimes  he 
seems  shamelessly  to  have  pulled  his  questioner's  leg,  as  when 
he  said  that  he  would  have  gone  on  writing  if  he  had  had  a  son. 
He  told  Wagner  that  composing  forty  operas  in  twenty  years  had 
exhausted  him^  and  besides,  there  were  no  singers  capable  of  per- 
forming even  them.  Again,  he  explained  that  he  quit  when  melo- 
dies no  longer  sought  him,  and  he  had  to  seek  them— which  sounds 
absurd  in  view  of  the  fertile  melodiousness  of  the  Stabat  Mater.  So 
we  are  forced  to  piece  together  our  own  reasons  for  Rossini's 
retirement.  What  superficially  started  it  was  the  Revolution  of 
1830,  which  overthrew  Charles  X,  seemingly  invalidated  Rossini's 


contract,  and  placed  on  the  throne  Louis-Philippe,  who,  the  com- 
poser complained,  cared  only  for  the  operas  of  Gretry.*  His  agita- 
tion over  the  (to  him)  black  political  situation  was  increased  by  his 
realization  that  he  might  have  to  share  his  throne  with  Meyerbeer, 
whose  star  was  then  rapidly  rising  in  the  musical  firmament. 
Rossini  would  not  compete,  or — what  seems  more  likely — he  could 

For  shortly  after  the  production  of  William  Tell,  Rossini's  neu- 
rosis caught  up  with  him:  it  had  revealed  itself  shyly  as  early  as 
1816,  after  the  cold  reception  of  The  Barber  of  Seville;  political 
disturbances  and  musical  rivalry  brought  it  to  a  head,  and  he 
became  more  and  more  touchy,  increasingly  hysterical.  In  1836  he 
first  boarded  a  train,  collapsed  with  fright  during  the  brief  ride 
from  Antwerp  to  Brussels,  and  was  carried  from  the  coach  in  a 
faint.  By  1848  he  was  practically  bedridden,  sometimes  on  the 
verge  of  insanity,  and  so  he  stayed  for  eight  years.  Some  attempt 
has  been  made  to  suggest  that  his  neurasthenia  and  physical  de- 
pression had  a  venereal  origin,  but  advanced  veneriens  do  not  rise 
from  their  beds,  at  the  age  of  sixty-four,  to  spend  the  last  twelve 
years  of  their  lives  making  dignified  carnival.  Which  is  exactly 
what  Rossini  did. 

In  1832,  Rossini  met  Olympe  Pelissier,  a  fascinating  French 
courtesan,  and  began  the  Stabat  Mater — by  far  the  most  important 
events  of  the  last  thirty-six  years  of  his  life.  Olympe  had  come  to 
him  with  unimpeachable  references,  having  been  the  mistress  of  a 
French  peer,  an  Anglo-American  magnate,  and  the  painter 
Vernet.  Soon  she  was  indispensable  to  him,  and  in  1847, two  years 
after  Isabella  had  died  with  Rossini's  name  on  her  lips,  they  were 
married.  For  twenty-one  years  Olyrnpe  was  Rossini's  faithful  and 
much-appreciated  wife,  and  their  domestic  bliss  was  so  unclouded 
as  to  be  positively  uninteresting  to  read  about. 

The  story  of  the  composition  of  the  Stabat  Mater  leads  one  to  be- 
lieve that  with  the  right  kind  of  wheedling  Rossini  might  have 
continued  to  write  operas.  In  1831  he  visited  Madrid  as  Aguado's 
guest,  and  was  requested  by  one  of  his  host's  clerical  friends  to 
compose  a  Stabat  Mater.  He  was  so  indebted  to  the  banker  that  he 

*  He  was  in  good  company.  Henry  Adams  tells  how  the  sixth  president,  who  was 
devoted  to  Gretry's  music,  used,  after  he  failed  of  re-election,  to  go  about  muttering 
"0,  Richard!  o  mon  roy!  Vunivers  fabandonne"  from  the  great  baritone  aria  in  Richard 
Coeur-de-lion.  But  then,  John  Qiuncy  Adams  was  always  an  eccentric. 

244  MEN   OF  MUSIC 

could  not  refuse.  Accordingly,  as  soon  as  he  returned  to  Paris,  he 
composed  the  first  six  sections;  then,  feeling  indisposed,  he  asked 
Tadolini,  conductor  at  the  Theatre  Italien,  to  complete  the  task. 
The  manuscript  was  thereupon  turned  over  to  the  Spanish  priest 
on  the  understanding  that  it  would  never  leave  his  hands.  But  the 
priest  died,  and  his  heirs  sold  the  Rossini-Tadolini  script  to  a 
French  publisher,  who  informed  Rossini  of  his  intention  to  market 
and  produce  it.  The  composer  was  furious,  and  at  once  sold  all 
rights  to  the  work  to  his  own  publisher  for  six  thousand  francs. 
Meanwhile,  he  began  to  replace  Tadolini's  efforts  with  his  own, 
and  finally,  on  January  7,  1842,  Paris  heard  another  Rossini 
premiere,  after  almost  thirteen  years  of  silence.  The  soloists  included 
the  incomparable  Giulia  Grisi,  the  romantic  Mario,  and  Tam- 
burini,  the  greatest  bass-baritone  of  the  period.  Paris  again  bowed 
to  the  old  wizard:  Heine  pronounced  Rossini's  liturgical  style 
superior  to  Mendelssohn's,  and  one  of  the  critics  reached  back  to 
the  first  performance  of  Haydn's  Creation  for  a  comparison.  All 
contemporary  sources  except  one  indicate  that  Paris  went  wild 
over  the  Stabat  Mater:  three  days  after  the  premiere,  Mme  d'Agoult 
wrote  to  Liszt  that  it  was  not  much  of  a  success. 

The  Stabat  Mater  is  a  fine  theatrical  composition  which  is  by  no 
means  out  of  place  when  performed  in  a  gay  baroque  church.  Sir 
W.  H.  Hadow  (who  was  no  prude)  flatly  called  it  "immoral,"  but 
so,  too,  by  Protestant  standards  are  some  of  the  Masses  of  Haydn 
and  Mozart.  So,  too,  pre-eminently  is  Pergolesi's  great  Stabat, 
which  Rossini  admired  so  inordinately  that  he  hesitated  to  court 
comparison  with  it  by  writing  one  himself.  It  is  partly  a  matter  of 
geography,  partly  a  matter  of  time.  We  have  come  to  recognize  a 
standard  of  expressiveness  which  may  be  interpreted  as  unimagina- 
tively as  the  letter  that  killeth,  but  which  has  the  virtue  of  demand- 
ing at  least  a  minimum  relationship  between  words  and  music.  By 
this  standard  Rossini's  Stabat  Mater  is  tasteless.  It  is  best  listened  to 
as  fragments  of  a  serious  opera,  for  as  illustrations  of  the  feelings 
of  Mary  as  she  stood  at  the  foot  of  the  cross  it  is  ridiculous — almost 
a  travesty  of  the  touching  thirteenth-century  poem  on  which  it  is 

Rossini  was  not  on  hand  for  the  premiere  of  the  Stabat  Mater.  After 
the  Revolution  of  1830,  he  loitered  in  Paris  for  six  years,  doing 
little  except  watch  with  troubled  eyes  the  Meyerbeer  comet  sweep- 


ing  the  heavens.  After  February  29,  1836,  the  date  of  the  first 
performance  of  Les  Huguenots,  and  Rossini's  forty-fourth  birthday 
as  well,  the  upstart's  following  equaled  his  own,  and  he  had  little 
wish  to  remain  in  Paris.  Moreover,  he  had  won  a  lawsuit:  his  con- 
tract with  the  deposed  Charles  X  was  adjudged  valid  for  the  rather 
silly  reason  that  the  King  had  signed  it  in  person,  and  his  pension 
of  six  thousand  francs  was  reapproved.  By  October,  1836,  Rossini 
was  in  Italy,  and  there  he  remained  for  almost  twenty  years.  For 
the  first  twelve  of  these  he  lived  chiefly  in  Bologna,  taking  an  ac- 
tive part  in  local  musical  politics,  and  presiding  like  a  benevolent 
despot  over  the  Liceo  Musicale,  to  which  he  made  lavish  grants. 
He  might  have  vegetated  there  until  his  death  if  in  1848  some  town 
radicals  had  not  staged  a  demonstration  against  him,  on  the 
grounds  that  he  was  a  bloated  conservative.  This  so  intimidated 
Rossini  and  Olympe,  who  were  both  ill  at  the  time,  that  they  fled 
to  Florence  the  next  day.  Rossini  soon  took  to  his  bed,  and  there 
for  the  next  eight  years,  physically  and  mentally  wretched,  he  re- 
mained. And  then,  another  flight,  this  time  from  the  Tuscan  cli- 
mate and  the  bungling  methods  of  Italian  doctors. 

Rossini  and  Olympe  drove  into  Paris  on  a  May  day  in  1855.  He 
was  an  apparently  broken  man,  and  for  more  than  a  year  those 
who  were  eager  to  do  him  homage  wondered  whether  he  had  re- 
turned to  Paris  only  to  die.  In  the  summer  of  1856,  he  was  trans- 
ported— somehow — to  Germany,  to  see  whether  taking  the  waters 
would  ease  his  last  days.  His  friends  had  gloomily  witnessed  his 
departure,  and  thought  that  was  the  last  they  would  ever  see  of 
him.  The  next  thing  they  knew  he  was  back,  and  had  opened  a 
large  apartment  at  2,  rue  de  la  Chaussge  d'Antin — a  memorable 
address  in  the  history  of  Parisian  society.  For  twelve  years — in  the 
winter  in  town,  in  the  summer  at  his  suburban  villa  at  Passy — he 
settled  down  to  the  business  of  enjoying  himself  and  making 
Olympe  happy.  His  Saturday  nights  became  a  Paris  institution, 
and  to  be  seen  there  gave  a  cachet  that  attendance  at  the  court  of 
Napoleon  the  Little  could  not.  The  story  of  Rossini's  life  became 
that  of  musical  and  artistic  Paris.  Only  the  salon  of  the  Princess 
Mathilde,  with  Taine  and  Sainte-Beuve  as  twin  deities,  compared 
with  Saturday  night  at  the  Rossinis'.  A  list  of  his  courtiers  becomes 
plethoric:  Wagner,  Liszt,  Verdi,  Patti,  Clara  Schumann,  Saint- 

246  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Saens.  .  .  .  Properly  to  celebrate  his  own  follies,  the  shameless  old 
gentleman  settled  his  wig  on  his  bald  pate,  and  composed  a  box  of 
musical  bonbons,  mostly  for  piano  solo,  which  he  called  Peches  de 
vieillesse.  One  of  them  is  Miscarriage  of  a  Polish  Mazurka,  another  A 
Hygienic  Prelude  for  Morning  Use.,  titles  that  call  to  mind  the  amusing 
nonsense  of  Erik  Satie.  Naturally,  the  Petite  Messe  solennelleyWritttn 
in  the  summer  of  1863,  is  more  dignified  stuff.  It  lasts  two  hours, 
and  has  some  ravishing  moments,  notably  a  touching  duet  for 
soprano  and  mezzo  that  would  melt  the  heart  of  the  stoniest 

In  1868,  it  being  a  leap  year,  Rossini  was  able  to  celebrate  his 
seventy-sixth*  birthday  on  February  29.  It  was  his  last.  He  was 
beginning  to  fail.  On  September  26  he  gave  his  last  Saturday 
soiree.  In  October  he  was  dying  of  old  age  and  a  complication  of 
ills — catarrh,  a  weak  heart,  a  painful  fistula.  The  fistula  was  at- 
tacked vainly,  septic  poisoning  set  in,  and  hope  was  abandoned. 
He  had  been  a  lax  communicant,  and  Pius  IX  (with  all  his  own 
troubles)  was  so  worried  for  the  repose  of  Rossini's  soul  that  he  sent 
the  papal  nuncio  to  Passy  to  administer  extreme  unction.  This 
annoyed  and  frightened  Rossini,  though  he  submitted.  So,  with 
accounts  squared,  he  passed  away  on  November  13,  1868 — a 
Friday.  Olympe  fell  across  the  body,  sobbing  hysterically,  "Ros- 
sini, I  shall  always  be  worthy  of  you." 

Much  has  happened  to  tarnish  the  glory  of  Rossini's  name  since 
the  day  when  Marietta  Alboni  and  Adelina  Patti  lifted  their 
voices  at  his  funeral  in  the  "Quis  est  homo"  from  the  Stabat  Mater. 
What  Chorley  said  as  early  as  1862 — "II  Tancredi  is  already  old, 
without  being  ancient" — now  applies  emphatically  to  almost  all  of 
Rossini's  operas.  Alone  The  Barber  of  Seville  remains  preternaturally 
young  and  supple,  miraculously  unwithered  by  the  years.  Bee- 
thoven hit  the  nail  on  the  head  when  he  advised  Rossini  to  write 
"more  Barbers"  His  failure  to  follow  this  advice  led  him  eventually 
to  found  modern  French  grand  opera — and  so  we  are  occasionally 
treated  to  at  least  a  three-act  view  of  that  wondrous  historical 
curiosity,  William  Tell.  But  today  opera  means  mainly  Wagner 

*  Purists,  allowing  for  the  fact  that  1800  was  not  a  leap  year,  will  relish  the  final 
absurdity  of  Rossini's  career — dying  more  than  three  years  before  his  nineteenth 


and  Verdi,  both  of  whom  learned  something  from  Rossini.  Much 
wider  might  be  Rossini's  province  if  his  taste  had  been  surer,  his 
intelligence  more  disciplined,  his  disregard  of  the  intellect  less 
profound.  He  would  have  composed  less,  and  the  quality  of  what 
he  composed  would  have  been  higher.  And,  who  knows? — he 
might  even  have  written  a  serious  opera  as  good  as  The  Barber  of 

Chapter  X 

Franz  Peter  Schubert 

(Vienna,  January  31,  lygy-November  19,  18283  Vienna) 

AFTER  enjoying  the  excellent  theater  of  Rossini's  life,  with  its 
incomparable  and  surprising  last  act,  it  is  shocking  to  turn  to 
the  sordid  little  playlet  in  which  Franz  Peter  Schubert  acted  the 
pathetic  stellar  role.  At  first  blush,  Stendhal's  savage  epitome  of 
man's  fate — "He  lived,  he  suffered,  he  died" — seems  to  fit  Schu- 
bert perfectly.  But  unlike  Rossini,  who  for  all  his  success  spent 
twenty  years  commiserating  himself,  Schubert  apparently  never 
even  realized  that  he  was  suffering.  In  those  rare  moments  when 
he  was  not  composing,  and  had  a  chance  to  think  things  over,  he 
sensed  that  life  was  hard.  But  by  and  large  his  life,  which  seems  a 
tragedy  to  us,  did  not  seem  one  to  him.  The  fact  that  a  richly  en- 
dowed natural  genius  should  have  been  a  pauper,  humiliating 
himself  constantly  to  earn  less  than  a  living,  is  so  unbearable  that 
addicts  of  the  peculiar  sort  of  magic  Schubert  alone  was  able  to 
weave,  refusing  to  face  the  harsh  reality  of  his  life,  have  romanti- 
cized him  into  the  hero  of  Blossom  Time.  But  there  is  no  evidence 
that  Schubert  himself  ever  felt  his  penury  more  acutely  than  when 
he  was  casting  around  vainly  for  the  insignificant  trifle  he  needed 
for  a  walking  tour.  Even  his  death  at  the  age  of  thirty-one,  pos- 
sibly before  his  powers  had  reached  their  full — even  his  death, 
which  to  us  seems  so  tragic,  so  wasteful,  was  robbed  of  its  terror  for 
him,  for  he  had  no  premonition  of  it,  and  until  the  very  end  was 
living  in  the  moment  as  he  always  had. 

Schubert  had  no  thought  but  music.  Furthermore,  he  had  no 
time  for  anything  else.  The  place  of  friends  in  Schubert's  life  has 
been  much  emphasized  by  biographers,  and  yet  his  attitude  to 
them  was  affectionately  wayward,  a  shade  this  side  of  perfunctory. 
As  enthusiasts  for  his  music,  they  impinged  upon,  but  never  en- 
tered, his  private  universe.  And  this  private  universe — what  was 
it?  It  was  nothing  less  than  a  reservoir  of  the  imagination  fed  from  a 
thousand  freshets,  constantly  welling  over,  constantly  tapped,  con- 
stantly renewed.  Within,  there  was  seldom  room  for  anything  ex- 
cept melody  and  the  need  to  use  it  poetically.  At  this  point,  the 



contrast  with  Beethoven  is  instructive:  no  such  freshets  poured  into 
the  dark  tarn  of  his  imagination,  and  his  notebooks  prove  that  his 
store  of  the  raw  matter  of  music  was,  compared  with  Schubert's, 
meager.  But  in  the  tortured  process  of  shaping  his  ideas,  Bee- 
thoven's spacious  intellect,  focused  savagely  and  indomitably  on 
the  material,  was  quickened  by  the  ideal  of  perfection.  Beethoven 
had  his  vast  failures,  but  when  he  succeeded,  the  conscious  creative 
labor  had  been  gauged  perfectly  to  the  highest  potency  of  the 
musical  ideas.  This  sort  of  creative  labor  was  foreign  to  Schubert, 
though  not  necessarily  beyond  his  capabilities.  He  "whelmed" — 
his  own  word — his  ideas  down  on  paper,  and  then  tossed  the  paper 
into  a  drawer.  The  pressure  of  new  musical  ideas  left  him  no  peace 
for  the  perfecting  of  those  he  had  already  noted  down. 

It  is  no  accident  that  this  man,  to  whom  melody  came  more 
easily  than  speech,,  to  whom,  indeed,  it  was  literally  as  natural  as 
singing  is  to  birds,  should  have  excelled  in  the  writing  of  songs.  For 
a  song,  more  than  any  other  musical  form,  can  be  set  down  in  one 
lyrical  inspiration.  Schubert  looked  at  any  poem,  good,  bad,  or  in- 
different, and  instantly  a  melody  came  into  his  head.  And  nothing 
could  stop  a  melody  when  it  was  on  its  way.  Take,  for  example,  the 
almost  incredible  story  of  the  composition  of  Hark,  Hark,  the  Lark! 
On  a  summer  afternoon  in  1826,  Schubert  was  sitting  in  a  noisy 
beer  garden,  and  idly  turning  over  the  pages  of  a  German  transla- 
tion of  Shakespeare.  All  of  a  sudden  he  exclaimed,  "The  loveliest 
melody  has  just  come  into  my  head !  If  I  only  had  some  music  paper 
with  me! .  . ."  One  of  his  friends  drew  a  few  staves  on  the  back  of  a 
menu,  and  there  and  then  Schubert  wrote  this  perfect  song.  After  a 
song  was  written — and  in  seventeen  years  he  wrote  over  six  hun- 
dred lieder  in  just  about  this  way — it  was  to  all  intents  and  pur- 
poses done  with.  An  occasional  tidying  up  of  purely  mechanical  de- 
tails, and  that  was  all.  Even  when  he  produced  several  settings  of 
the  same  poem,  he  was  not  trying  to  perfect  the  original  setting. 
A  new  tune,  and  not  necessarily  an  intrinsically  better  or  more  ap- 
propriate one,  had  come  into  his  head. 

The  fact  that  more  than  a  tenth  of  his  songs  are  set  to  poems  by 
Goethe  is  apt  to  lead  the  unwary  into  believing  that  Schubert  had 
a  taste  for  only  the  best  in  poetry.  Actually  he  was  so  indiscriminate 
in  his  choice  of  lyrics  that  he  might  almost  have  said  with  Rossini, 
"Give  me  a  laundry  list,  and  I  will  set  it  to  music."  Some  of  his 

250  L    MEN    OF    MUSIC 

best  songs  are  set  to  doggerel.  Ninety  poets  or  versifiers  are  repre- 
sented in  the  collected  edition  of  his  songs,  and  of  these  a  scant  two 
dozen  have  achieved  some  measure  of  immortality  in  their  own 
right.  Schubert  did  not  need  good  verse,  nor  is  there  much  evi- 
dence that  he  recognized  it  when  he  saw  it.  The  spineless  plati- 
tudes of  Rellstab's  Standchen,  which  he  selected  in  the  last  year  of  his 
life,  served  him  just  as  effectively  as  Goethe's  moving  dramatic 
ballad,  Der  Erlkonig,  which  he  discovered  at  the  age  of  eighteen. 
What  he  needed  was  a  mere  peg  on  which  to  hang  a  melody.  His 
adoring  friends  knew  this,  and  were  not  above  exploiting  it  with 
brutal  good  humor,  locking  him  up  in  a  room  with  any  volume  of 
verse  that  happened  to  be  at  hand.  The  number  of  songs  he  set 
down  under  these  strange  conditions  was  limited  only  by  the 
length  of  his  imprisonment.  And  as  he  himself  was  wont  to  say, 
"To  complete  one  song  is  to  begin  another." 

Wilhelm  Miiller,  to  whose  verses  Schubert  wrote  his  two  major 
song  cycles,  was  a  sentimentalist  of  small  talent.  Schubert  merely 
happened  on  a  copy  of  the  Milllerlieder  in  1823,  and  there  is  no  evi- 
dence to  show  that  he  realized  the  twenty  poems  of  his  first  cycle — 
Die  Schone  Mullerin — were  drivel.  Indeed,  four  years  later,  he  set 
two  dozen  more  of  Miiller's  lyrics  in  a  cycle  called  Die  Winterreise. 
Yet,  in  some  respects,  these  cycles  are  among  Schubert's  most 
remarkable  achievements,  and  though  separate  songs  in  them  may 
be  judged  on  their  own  merits,  the  effect  of  hearing  the  cycles  in 
totality  is  cumulative,  and  distinctly  heightens  their  impressive- 
ness.  Another  collection  of  fourteen  songs  was  published  post- 
humously under  the  title  ofSchwanengesang,  but  it  has  no  real  unity. 
It  includes  such  dramatic  pieces  as  Der  Atlas  and  Die  Stadt,  as  well 
as  the  haunting  Doppelganger,  which  has  been  called  the  finest  of 
Schubert's  songs. 

But  most  of  Schubert's  six  hundred-odd  lieder  were  written 
separately.  Almost  a  quarter  of  them  are  still  often  sung.  The 
Gramophone  Shop  Encyclopedia  of  Recorded  Music  lists  no  fewer  than  127 
separate  songs,  some  of  them  in  a  baffling  number  of  recordings  of 
both  the  original  and  various  arrangements  and  transcriptions. 
Stdndchen  and  Ave  Maria,  to  cite  the  most  flagrant  examples  of  over- 
supply,  have  been  recorded  more  than  fifty  times  apiece,  including 
a  carillon  version  and  one  for  the  Hawaiian  guitar.  To  millions  of 
otherwise  unmusical  people,  the  very  name  of  Schubert  signifies 


song.  The  reasons  are  simple,  at  least  as  regards  the  most  popular 
of  his  lieder:  they  run  a  comparatively  small  gamut  of  emotions  in 
easily  apprehensible  terms;  they  sing  of  love,  nature,  religious  de- 
votion, death;  their  melodies  have  a  way  of  staying  in  the  memory, 
and  without  being  in  the  least  catchy  or  vulgar,  have  an  intimacy 
of  appeal  that  one  can  match  only  in  folk  melody. 

In  the  Ave  Maria,  in  which  the  Queen  of  Heaven  descends  from 
her  pedestal,  and  becomes  the  sympathetic  confidante  of  the  poor 
peasant  maiden,  Schubert  never  once  makes  a  misstep  in  a  situa- 
tion so  susceptible  of  vulgarization  and  mawkish  overstatement. 
The  musical  means  are  amazingly  simple:  the  long  flowing  melody 
ranges  but  an  octave,  and  the  accompaniment — an  insistent, 
repetitive  figure — depends  for  its  magical  effect  on  subtle  har- 
monic shifts.  The  joyful  celebration  of  Hark,  Hark,  the  Lark!,  the 
elegant  precision  of  Who  Is  Sylvia?  (an  exquisite  hybrid  all  around, 
being  neither  typical  Schubert  nor  typical  Shakespeare),  the 
somber  hopelessness  of  Am  Meer,  the  serene  peace  of  Du  bist  die 
RuK — all  testify  to  his  sureness  as  a  poet  of  the  lyrical  or  contempla- 
tive. And  Schubert  could  be  a  great  storyteller.  The  Erlkonig  is  in 
effect  a  tiny  opera;  it  has,  at  least,  the  best  qualities  of  a  magnifi- 
cent operatic  scena,  so  well  has  it  caught  the  spirit  of  Goethe's 
melodramatic  ballad.  It  needs  a  thoughtful  artist  to  interpret  the 
Erlkonig,  to  differentiate  the  various  personages  of  the  story  with- 
out caricaturing  them.  Ernestine  Schumann-Heink  made  it  one  of 
the  great  dramatic  songs  of  the  world. 

For  fathering  the  lied,  Schubert  was  perfectly  endowed,  and 
the  ancestral,  tentative  efforts  of  Mozart  and  Beethoven  do  not 
detract  from,  but  rather  emphasize,  the  bold  and  effortless  origi- 
nality of  his  creation.  The  great  lieder  composers — Schumann, 
Robert  Franz,  Brahms,  Hugo  Wolf,  Richard  Strauss — have  all 
been  deeply  influenced  by  his  songs,  and  even  in  evolving  the 
idiosyncrasies  of  their  own  mastery  have  by  no  means  rejected  all 
Schubertian  touches.  No  one  has  ever  denied  that  Schubert 
breathed  life  into  the  song.  But  the  matchless  natural  gifts  that 
were  adequate  for  that  act  of  creation  were  not  in  themselves 
enough  to  deal  with  the  less  tractable  elements  of  the  larger 
musical  forms.  He  needed  also  an  intellectual  grasp  of  complex 
materials,  a  willingness  to  wrestle  with  the  knotty  problems  arising 
from  them,  and  a  thorough  training  in  musical  theory.  In  varying 

252  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

degrees,  he  lacked  these  requisites,  and  so  was  grounded  incon- 
tinently on  his  most  daring  and  promising  flights.  What  a  thorough 
training  would  have  given  him  can  only  be  guessed  at,  particu- 
larly since  there  are  reasons  for  suspecting  that  he  would  not  have 
been  amenable  to  such  a  discipline.  It  might  have  been  a  sturdier 
understanding  of  big  musical  ideas  and  a  taste  for  wringing  the  most 
from  them. 

What  is  certain  is  that  Schubert,  for  various  reasons,  did  not 
have  that  training.  Born  in  1797  in  Vienna,  then  the  musical 
capital  of  Europe,  he  was  the  son  of  a  desperately  poor  school- 
master. At  the  age  of  seven,  after  he  had  picked  out  a  few  tunes  on 
the  piano  without  instruction,  his  father  and  his  brother  Ignaz, 
amateurs  both,  began  respectively  to  teach  him  the  ABC's  of  the 
violin  and  piano.  His  aptitude  and  eagerness  soon  outstripped 
their  lessons,  and  he  was  turned  over  to  the  Kapellmeister  of  the 
parish  church,  who  trained  his  piping  voice,  but  largely  let  the 
boy's  musical  education  run  itself.  In  1808,  he  became  a  chorister 
in  the  court  chapel,  and  was  accepted  as  a  student  at  the  training 
school  attached  to  it.  Although  Salieri,  its  director,  had  raised 
the  school's  prestige,  it  actually  provided  only  the  sketchiest 
musical  education.  Schubert  left  it  with  a  certain  grasp  of  orches- 
tral playing  and  directing,  and  some  familiarity  with  the  music  of 
Haydn  and  Mozart,  and  possibly  that  of  Beethoven.  Except  for  a 
few  private  consultations  with  Salieri,  who  warned  him  not  to  set 
the  verses  of  Goethe  and  Schiller,  and  personally  excised  any 
stray  echoes  of  Haydn  and  Mozart  he  detected  in  the  boy's  com- 
positions, this  ends  the  tale  of  Franz  Peter  Schubert's  musical 
education.  Just  before  his  death  in  1828  he  was  planning  to  begin 
lessons  in  counterpoint. 

Schubert's  years  at  the  chapel  school  failed  to  give  him  a  solid 
foundation  in  theory,  but  it  was  there  that  he  found  the  nucleus 
of  that  circle  of  adoring  friends  who  not  only  gained  for  his  music 
what  currency  it  had  during  his  lifetime,  but  also  were  largely 
responsible  for  his  being  able  to  keep  body  and  soul  together  as 
long  as  he  did.  It  was  by  the  happiest  chance  that,  wretched  urchin 
though  he  was — shy,  awkward,  shabbily  dressed,  almost  ugly- 
he  drew  to  himself  the  sympathetic  regard  of  a  few  of  the  older 
boys,  chief  among  whom  was  Josef  von  Spaun.  When  he  was  about 
twelve  or  thirteen,  Schubert  first  felt  the  urge  to  compose,  and  at 


this  critical  time  Von  Spaun  generously  pressed  upon  him  the 
music  paper  he  could  not  afford  to  buy.  Among  his  prentice  pieces 
were  several  string  quartets,  which  he  composed  for  performance 
by  a  little  chamber  group  consisting  of  his  father,  two  of  his 
brothers,  and  himself.  They  met  regularly  Sundays  and  holidays. 
Such  gatherings  delighted  the  elder  Schubert,  who  did  not  even 
mind  being  brought  to  book  by  Franz  for  his  technical  lapses.  For 
some  time,  the  old  schoolmaster  regarded  his  son's  talent  as 
pleasant  and  harmless,  but  when  it  began  to  interfere  with  the 
boy's  studies,  and  he  began  to  fear  that  Franz  was  not  the  stuff  of 
which  schoolmasters  are  made,  he  blew  up.  Franz  refused  to 
abandon  his  ruling  passion,  and  his  father  forbade  him  the  house. 
In  1812,  however,  Frau  Schubert  died,  and  in  the  course  of  the 
family  mourning  there  was  a  good  deal  of  weeping  on  shoulders, 
and  the  erring  son  was  quite  naturally  forgiven — without  promises 
on  either  side.  Schubert  seems  to  have  been  only  mildly  fond  of  his 
mother,  and  when  his  father  remarried,  he  transferred  his  affection 
easily  to  his  stepmother. 

In  1813,  Schubert's  voice  broke,  and  like  Haydn,  sixty-four 
years  earlier,  he  became  useless  to  the  choir.  While  Haydn  had 
been  turned  brutally  into  the  streets  of  Vienna,  Schubert  had  two 
courses  open  to  him:  to  accept  a  foundation  scholarship  or  to  take  a 
teaching  job  in  his  father's  school.  As  the  former  involved  going 
on  with  studies  that  bored  this  bespectacled,  studious-looking, 
but  thoroughly  unintellectual  youth,  he  chose  to  teach.  He  must 
have  known  the  drudgery  that  awaited  him,  but  schoolteachers 
were  exempt  from  military  service,  he  would  not  have  to  study 
any  more,  and  he  would  have  plenty  of  leisure  for  composition. 
For  three  years  he  served  as  his  father's  assistant,  and  be  it  said 
that  this  period,  when  he  doubtless  was  getting  three  square  meals 
a  day  as  well  as  a  certain  stipend,  was  the  most  miserable  of  his 
life.  Against  all  his  natural  instincts,  he  went  about  his  petty  daily 
tasks  with  a  stolid  persistence,  and  only  rarely  gave  vent  to  the 
rage  that  was  consuming  him.  He  hated  the  school  and  everything 
about  it — the  damp  urchins,  the  ill-smelling  classroom,  the  mad- 
dening rote  of  elementary  teaching. 

Deficient  Schubert  may  have  been  in  intellect,  but  certainly  not 
in  courage  and  persistence.  In  this  most  unpromising  milieu, 
from  1813  to  1 8 1 6,  he  attempted  almost  every  form  of  composition, 

254  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

setting  down  string  quartets,  five  symphonies,  sonatas  for  piano 
and  violin,  Masses  and  other  church  music,  eight  stage  works  of 
varying  lengths  and  intentions  (but  all  dismal),  and  more  than 
two  hundred  and  fifty  songs.  Much  of  this  output  is  unimportant 
judged  by  the  standards  of  anyone  not  writing  an  exhaustive 
treatise  on  the  works  of  Schubert.  But  many  of  the  songs  are  fresh 
and  perfectly  realized,  and  several  are  masterpieces:  a  boy  of 
seventeen  composed  Gretchen  am  Spinnrade^  a  boy  of  eighteen  Der 
Erlkonig.  The  miracle  of  Schubert's  creation  of  the  lied  becomes 
all  the  more  miraculous  when  it  is  considered  that  though  he  went 
on  to  compose  many  other  kinds  of  song,  he  never  composed  any 
finer  than  these,  and  for  a  very  simple  reason:  these  are  perfect. 
Among  the  other  work  is  one  of  the  most  fragrant  and  guileless 
tributes  ever  paid  by  a  young  composer  to  his  great  predecessors — 
the  Fifth  Symphony,  in  B  flat  major.  Only  a  very  sophisticated 
pair  of  ears,  hearing  it  for  the  first  time,  could  distinguish  it  from 
Mozart  when  he  is  most  like  Haydn.  There  is  nothing  in  it  that 
would  have  surprised  Mozart:  it  is  thoroughly  classical  in  struc- 
ture, and  for  the  most  part  in  feeling.  Its  originality— just  enough 
to  give  piquancy — is  the  songlike  quality  of  some  of  the  themes  and 
the  romantic  tints  in  the  andante.  As  a  passing  phase,  ancestor 
worship  that  produces  symphonies  like  Schubert's  B  flat  major  is 
all  right. 

After  three  years'  teaching  in  his  father's  school,  Schubert  ap- 
plied for  the  post  of  musical  director  at  Laibach,  a  provincial 
capital  about  two  hundred  and  fifty  miles  from  Vienna.  He  was 
refused,  and  as  there  seemed  no  relief  imminent,  he  took  the  revo- 
lutionary step  of  quitting,  and  so  began  a  Bohemian,  happy-go- 
lucky  kind  of  life  that,  except  for  two  brief  attempts  at  conven- 
tionality, he  never  abandoned.  First  to  take  the  innocent  under  his 
wing  was  the  gay  and  temperamental  Franz  von  Schober,  an 
Austro-Swedish  law  student  of  good  family.  Von  Schober  not  only 
provided  lodgings  and  food  for  Schubert,  but  also  began  to  show 
him  the  town.  He  had  an  apt  pupil  in  the  short,  stocky  youth,  and 
within  a  few  years  Schubert  was  seeing  more  of  the  town  than  was 
good  for  him.  Of  much  more  moment  was  Von  Schober's  bringing 
into  the  jealously  exclusive  clique  of  young  artists  who  called  them- 
selves Schubertians  the  eminent  baritone,  Johann  Michael  Vogl, 
who  was  more  than  a  generation  older  than  the  rest  of  them.  It 


was  this  strong-willed  and  widely  admired  artist,  known  for  the 
severity  of  Ms  taste,  who  brought  Schubert's  songs  their  first  fame, 
introducing  them,  on  every  possible  occasion,  at  the  most  fashion- 
able parties  in  Vienna.  Nor  was  this  all:  lie  persuaded  the  Karnt- 
nerthortheater  to  risk  ordering  an  opera  from  Schubert.*  t 

Yogi's  wirepulling  at  the  Karntnerthor  was  typical  of  the  solici- 
tude of  the  Schubertians  for  the  pygmy  god  around  whom  they 
revolved.  They  were,  in  their  way,  as  remarkable  as  Beethoven's 
patrons.  Without  an  Archduke  Rudolf  or  rich  socialites  like  the 
Princes  Lobkowitz  and  Kinsky,  the  Schubertians  made  up  in 
energy  and  devotion  what  they  lacked  in  prestige  and  wealth.  The 
affluent  and  courted  Vogl  was  in  every  way  an  exception  among- 
them.  The  others  were  young  men  trying  to  get  along  in  the  world 
— even  the  dilettante  Von  Schober  toyed  with  various  careers. 
During  his  short  life  Schubert  lodged  with  various  of  them,  and 
somehow,  some  way,  they  saw  to  it  that  he  was  usually  fed  and 
usually  supplied  with  a  piano,  music  paper,  and  plenty  of  verses 
by  themselves  or  better  poets.  With  them,  the  shy  and  awkward 
composer  let  himself  go,  and  rather  fancied  himself  strolling 
through  the  streets  of  Vienna  at  the  head  of  these  devoted  hench- 
men, whom  he  treated  with  a  kind  of  rough  affection. 

Most  of  the  Schubertians  are  now  mere  names,  even  the  once 
famous  Moritz  von  Schwind,  who  painted  a  Schubertiade,  one  of  the 
get-togethers  at  which  a  few  guests  were  permitted  to  share  with 
the  Schubertians  the  pleasure  of  hearing  some  new  works  by  their 
idol.  There  was  Beethoven's  friend  Anselm  Hiittenbrenner,  and 
his  brother  Josef,  who  for  a  time  literally  waited  on  Schubert  hand 
and  foot.  There  was  Johann  Mayrhofer,  a  poetaster  of  antique 
cast  whose  immortality  is  secure  only  because  Schubert  made 
songs  of  forty-seven  of  his  melancholy  verses.  There  was  Von 
Spaun,  Schubert's  first  benefactor  and  lifelong  friend,  and  finally 
the  courtly  Eduard  von  Bauernfeld,  who  came  late  into  the  circle. 
Of  all  these,  Schubert  seems  to  have  cared  most  for  the  carefree 
and  sparkling  Von  Schober  and  the  gloomy  and  neurotic  Mayr- 
hofer,  who  ended  his  unhappy  life  by  jumping  out  of  a  window  for 
the  extremely  surrealist  reason  that  he  was  afraid  of  getting 
cholera.  Becoming  a  Schubertian  was  something  of  an  honor,  and 

*  This  opera,  Die  %willingsbruder}  was  duly  performed  for  six  nights,  and  then,  like 
the  rest  of  Schubert's  listless  stage  pieces,  fell  into  deserved  desuetude. 

256  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

rather  more  of  a  task,  for  not  only  did  the  initiates  guard  the  circle 
jealously,  but  Schubert  himself  was  punctilious  about  the  qualifica- 
tions of  would-be  joiners.  "What  can  he  do?"  was  his  invariable 
question  when  a  new  name  was  mentioned. 

In  the  summer  of  1818,  Schubert  gave  up  his  freedom  for  a  brief 
period  of  bond  servitude  as  music  teacher  at  Zelesz,  a  Hungarian 
seat  of  Count  Janos  Esterhazy.  At  first,  the  novelty  of  life  in  a 
well-ordered  and  lavishly  appointed  establishment  appealed  to 
him,  and  he  was  enraptured  by  the  beauty  of  the  countryside.  Un- 
happily, he  was  treated  like  a  servant,  ate  apart  from  the  family 
with  the  maids  and  scullions,  and  had  to  associate  with  people 
whose  musical  standards  were  low.  Shortly  he  was  sending  self- 
commiserating  notes  to  the  Schubertians,  and  picturing  himself  as 
an  exile  from  the  Eden  that  was  Vienna.  But  even  when  Zelesz  was 
becoming  really  hateful,  life  had  compensations:  ".  .  .  the  cham- 
bermaid very  pretty,  and  often  in  my  company  .  .  ." 

When  Schubert  returned  to  Vienna,  his  only  prospect  of  earn- 
ing a  few  coppers  was  that  of  giving  lessons  to  the  Esterhazys,  who 
lived  in  the  city  during  the  winter.  His  father,  who  had  always 
regarded  Franz'  Bohemianism  as  a  prolonged  vacation,  now 
thought  it  high  .time  for  him  to  return  to  schoolteaching.  When 
Schubert  flatly  refused,  they  quarreled  violently,  and  for  three 
years  were  not  on  speaking  terms.  Franz'  stepmother,  with  great 
common  sense,  refused  to  recognize  this  silly  business,  and  when- 
ever he  was  really  in  desperate  straits,  reached  down  into  her 
money  stocking  to  help  him  out.  Meanwhile  he  skirted  the  abyss 
of  pauperism  with  his  friends  clutching  at  his  coattails.  Again  he 
lived  wherever  he  could  work  and  sleep;  again  the  manuscripts 
piled  up;  again  his  little  affairs  were  in  a  chaos,  to  which  Anselm 
Hiittenbrenner  vainly  tried  to  impart  some  order.  There  were 
signs,  however,  that  the  Schubertians  might  not  have  him  long  as 
their  private  property.  On  February  28,  1819,  on  the  program  of  a 
public  concert,  there  was,  for  the  first  time,  a  Schubert  song — the 
plaintive  Schafers  Klagelied,  which  received  a  benevolent  pat  on  the 
back  from  the  formidable  Allgemeine  musikalische  ^eitung  of  Leipzig. 
Vogl,  too,  continued  his  yeoman  work,  and  that  summer  went  on  a 
walking  tour  through  Upper  Austria  with  Schubert.  They  made 
their  headquarters  at  the  old  rococo  town  of  Steyr,  where  they 
were  entertained  by  a  local  musical  enthusiast  who  suggested  that 


Schubert  use  the  theme  of  Die  Forelle — that  vivacious  apostrophe 
to  a  flashing  brook  trout  which  is  still  a  favorite  Schubert  lied — in  a 
chamber  work.  In  a  twinkling,  Schubert  sat  down,  and  wrote  out 
the  four  string  parts  of  a  piano  quintet.  Then,  without  making  a 
complete  score,  he  had  it  performed  for  his  host,  himself  playing 
the  piano  part,  which  he  had  not  yet  had  time  to  write  down. 

This  was  the  incomparable  Piano  Quintet  in  A  major.  The 
earliest  of  Schubert's  chamber  works  still  played,  it  outranks  in 
popularity  even  the  piano  quintets  of  Schumann  and  Brahms. 
The  "Forellen"  Quintet  is  a  rarity  of  its  kind,  for  people  who  insist 
loudly  that  they  "can't  stand"  chamber  music  yield  at  once  to  its 
ingratiating  charms.  Although  the  gay  and  guileless  melody  of 
the  song  is  used  only  in  the  theme  and  variations  of  the  fourth 
movement,  its  darting  rhythms  pervade  the  entire  five  movements. 
It  is  impossible  to  conceive  of  more  easily  accessible  music.  It  is 
picturesque  in  the  exact  sense  of  the  word,  and  in  many  places 
the  idea  of  rippling  water  and  gleaming  fish  occurs  voluntarily 
to  the  mind.  It  is  romantic  music,  too,  and  its  moments  of  poign- 
ancy are  something  absolutely  new  in  music,  so  intimate  and 
personal  are  they.  It  is,  of  course,  the  music  of  youth.  These  quali- 
ties rather  than  any  masterly  design  give  it  a  kind  of  unity,  and 
tend  to  conceal  the  diffuseness  from  which  the  "Forellen"  like  al- 
most every  other  extended  work  of  Schubert's,  suffers. 

The  "Forellen"  Quintet  is  easily  the  best  known  of  Schubert's 
numerous  chamber  works,  and  few  of  the  others  can  be  mentioned 
alongside  it.  These  few,  except  for  a  lovely  fragment — the  Quarlett- 
satz,  in  C  minor — belong  to  the  last  years  of  his  life.  Two  piano 
trios,  lovely  in  every  particular,  emphasize  how  effective  the 
piano  was  in  helping  Schubert  successfully  to  overcome  miscalcula- 
tions in  design  and  instrumentation  that  often  baffled  him  when 
composing  for  strings  alone.  The  last  three  of  his  fourteen  string 
quartets  are  quite  likely  to  survive  as  delightful  and  easily  under- 
stood examples  of  a  genre  that  is  still  considered  somewhat  esoteric. 
Possibly  the  reason  they  are  so  readily  got  at  is  that  Schubert 
either  misunderstood  or  never  gave  a  thought  to  the  problems  of 
design  and  balance  involved  in  writing  for  four  strings.  His  quartets 
are  really  more  of  his  songs,  with  two  violins,  viola,  and  cello  sub- 
stituted for  voice  and  piano.  He  was  haunted  by  song  in  and  out  of 
season,  and  had  the  greatest  difficulty  in  relinquishing  the  song 

258  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

quality  and  coming  to  grips  with  the  special  demands  of  instru- 
mental media.  Only  the  captious  can  stand  out  against  the  sheer 
melodic  beauty  of  the  A  minor  Quartet  or  the  more  somber,  more 
reflective  one  in  D  minor,  part  of  which  is  based  on  his  own  song, 
Tod  und  das  Madchen.  The  trouble  with  these  beautiful  collections  of 
melody  is  that  they  are  not  string-quartetistic,  as,  for  example, 
those  of  Mozart  and  Beethoven  pre-eminently  are.  The  same  lack 
of  insight  into  the  personality  of  his  medium,  and  the  same  failure 
to  exploit  its  potentialities  to  the  full,  ,mar  even  the  fine  String 
Quintet  in  G  major,  which  shows,  however,  that  in  the  year  of  his 
death  Schubert  was  beginning  seriously  to  tackle  the  special 
problems  of  string  ensembles.  This  is  no  happy,  feckless  effusion, 
no  mere  outpouring  of  song  set  down  for  five  strings:  it  is  richly 
various,  thoughtful,  bold  in  harmonic  combinations,  and  shows 
that  the  instruments  had  some  say  in  dictating  texture  and  melody. 
In  1820^  two  of  Schubert's  ill-fated  operas  reached  the  stage. 
The  first  was  a  failure,  and  just  when  the  second  was  showing  signs 
of  mild  success,  the  management  of  the  Theater  an  der  Wien, 
where  it  was  running,  went  bankrupt  Vienna  was  at  the  feet  of 
Rossini,  and  both  the  Italian  and  his  theatrical  manager  were 
minting  money  from  his  operas.  It  was  in  the  vain  hope  of  divert- 
ing some  of  this  golden  stream  into  his  own  pockets  that  Schubert, 
himself  an  ardent  Rossinian,  wrote  operas.  Nor  was  he  easily  dis- 
couraged: his  pathetic  attempts  to  interest  the  Viennese  in  his 
operatic  talents  extended  over  a  ten-year  period,  and  as  late  as 
1823  he  was  doggedly  writing  these  often  grandiose  stage  pieces — 
one  of  them,  Fierrabras,  runs  to  a  thousand  pages  of  manuscript. 
When  Weber  was  in  Vienna  in  1822,  he  discussed  with  Schubert, 
who  so  greatly  admired  Der  Frdschutz  that  he  went  around  hum- 
ming snatches  of  it,  the  possibility  of  mounting  one  of  his  operas. 
The  following  year,  however,  Schubert  told  Weber  exactly  what 
he  thought  ofEuryantke — "not  enough  melody,  Herr  von  Weber" — 
and  that  avenue  was  closed.  Apparently  the  absurdities  of  Helmine 
von  Chezy's  libretto  for  Ewyantke  did  not  feaze  Schubert,  for  that 
same  year  he  agreed  to  furnish  an  overture  and  incidental  music 
for  another  of  her  high-flown  plays — Rosamunde,  Furstin  von  Cypern^ 
which  made  its  debut  at  the  Theater  an  der  Wien  on  December  20, 
1823.  It  ran  two  nights,  and  was  discontinued  forever.  Much  of  the 
music  is  delicious,  and  the  piquant  G  major  ballet,  a  sort  of  cousin- 


german  to  the  equally  famous  F  minor  Moment  musical,  trips  along 
with  inimitable  delicacy.* 

Schubert  made  little  or  no  money  from  the  stage.,  and  while  he 
toiled  for  it,  carelessly  threw  away  a  small  fortune.  On  March  7, 
1821,  at  a  charity  concert  at  the  Karntnerthortheater  sponsored 
by  Ignaz  Sonnleithner,  a  noted  musical  patron,  Der  Erlkbnig  was 
sung  in  public  for  the  first  time.  Yogi's  superinterpretation  had  to 
be  repeated,  and  thereupon  Leopold  Sonnleithner,  Ignaz'  son,  be- 
lieving that  the  song  could  be  published  with  profit  for  Schubert, 
approached  several  music  publishers  with  the  idea.  He  was  turned 
down,  and  accordingly  induced  three  of  his  friends  to  help  him 
underwrite  a  private  edition  of  one  hundred  copies.  They  were  put 
on  display  at  a  musical  soiree,  and  by  the  end  of  the  evening  were 
all  sold.  During  the  course  of  the  year,  six  more  folios  containing 
nineteen  songs  were  issued  by  this  private  publishing  group.  Out 
of  the  profits  not  only  were  Schubert's  debts  paid,  but  he  was  also 
presented  with  a  considerable  sum  of  money.  Had  he  held  on  to 
the  copyright,  he  might  have  had  a  comfortable  income  for  life. 
But  he  was  without  a  trace  of  business  acumen,  and  in  1823 — 
seemingly  because  he  no  longer  wished  to  be  bothered  with  peri- 
odic settlings  of  account  with  Anton  Diabelli,  who  had  engraved 
and  printed  the  seven  folios — he  sold  the  plates  and  copyrights  to 
the  publisher  for  the  equivalent  of  $350.  He  had  thoughtlessly 
thrown  away  the  best  chance  he  ever  had  to  earn  a  decent  liveli- 

As  some  palliation  for  this  act  of  sheer  stupidity,  it  can  be  urged 
that  when  Schubert  wrote  away  his  rights  in  February,  1823,  he 
was  desperate.  During  the  preceding  year  he  had  begun  to  ail,  and 
by  New  Year's  the  illness  declared  itself  so  violently  that  he  was 
taken  to  a  hospital.  He  was  suffering  from  syphilis,  evidently  in  an 
advanced  stage,  for  in  a  brief  time  he  lost  much  of  his  hair,  and 
had  to  wear  a  wig.  He  was  thereafter  from  time  to  time  under  the 
care  of  venereal  specialists.  As  long  as  he  pursued  the  proper  treat- 
ment, he  seemed  well  enough,  but  the  careless  fellow  was  quite  as 
incapable  of  adhering  to  a  strict  health  regimen  as  he  was  of  ap- 
plying himself  to  a  stiff  problem  in  the  esthetics  of  composition. 
He  would  dissipate,  overdrink,  neglect  his  medicine,  and  the  dis- 

*  The  Rosamunde  music,  long  forgotten,  was  unearthed  in  Vienna  in  1867  by  Sir 
Arthur  Sullivan  and  Sir  George  Grove. 


ease  would  prostrate  him.  Eventually  his  hitherto  sunny  disposi- 
tion succumbed  to  the  strain:  he  had  moods  of  irritability,  of 
moroseness  and  gloom,  alternating  with  outbursts  of  bravado.  Occa- 
sionally he  vented  his  despair  in  his  music,  so  much  so  indeed  that 
a  Vienna  musical  organization  wrote  him  a  polite  note,  begging 
him  to  make  his  compositions  less  gloomy. 

Schubert  had  a  right  to  be  gloomy.  With  the  autumn  of  1822, 
bad  luck  came  to  hound  him:  his  health  was  on  the  downgrade, 
the  managers  consistently  refused  to  stage  his  operas,  and  the  Ge- 
seilschaft der  Musikfreunde  blackballed  him  for  membership.  Yet 
it  was  about  this  time  that  he  was  offered  the  post  of  organist  at 
the  imperial  chapel,  and  refused  it  for  no  more  apparent  reason 
than  that  he  did  not  want  to  tie  himself  down  in  any  way.  His 
election  as  honorary  member  of  the  musical  societies  of  Graz  and 
Linz  was  some  compensation  for  the  slight  from  Vienna.  It  is  not 
known  how  he  showed  his  appreciation  to  Linz,  but  to  Graz  he 
decided  to  present  a  symphony.  He  set  to  work  in  October,  1822, 
wrote  two  movements,  sketched  a  third  and  fourth,  orchestrated 
nine  bars  of  the  third  movement — a  scherzo — and  then  suddenly 
tired  of  the  whole  thing  and  sent  it  to  Graz.  There  it  eventually 
passed  into  the  hands  of  Anselm  Hiittenbrenner,  who  tucked  it 
away  in  his  desk  for  forty-three  years.  Hiittenbrenner  was  an  an- 
cient when  Johann  Franz  von  Herbeck,  the  conductor  of  the  Vi- 
enna Geseilschaft  concerts,  looked  him  up  in  Graz  in  1865,  hinting 
that  he  would  like  to  present  a  new  work  by  Schubert.  "I  have 
many  of  his  manuscripts,"  was  Hiittenbrenner's  reply,  which,  in 
view  of  the  fact  that  the  whereabouts  of  many  Schubert  works  is 
still  unknown,  may  be  deemed  significant.  Hiittenbrenner  handed 
Von  Herbeck  the  manuscript  of  the  1822  symphony,  and  it  was 
first  performed  on  December  17,  1865,  at  a  Geseilschaft  concert. 

The  c 'Unfinished"  Symphony,  thus  happily  unearthed,  is  the 
noblest  fragment  in  music.  It  is  certainly  the  most  popular  of 
Schubert's  orchestral  works.  Only  six  years  had  elapsed  since  the 
B  flat  Symphony,  that  beautiful  and  perfectly  behaved  bow  to  the 
past,  and  in  the  interval  he  had  composed  a  transitional  symphony 
of  no  great  distinction.  The  "Unfinished,"  actually  Schubert's  sev- 
enth, shows  a  development  of  his  own  characteristic  symphonic 
idiom  that  is  as  baffling  to  uncritical  Schubert  devotees  as  to  text- 
book critics.  While  the  Fifth  Symphony  was  but  a  classical  re- 


creation,  the  "Unfinished"  is  undilute  Schubert — romantic  music 
from  beginning  to  end.  The  first  movement  opens  gloomily  and 
agitatedly  (a  sort  of  spiritual  pacing  the  floor),  and  then  moves  by 
an  inspired  coup  de  theatre  into  one  of  his  most  opulent  and  poignant 
melodies.*  It  is  possibly  the  most  famous  single  movement  in  sym- 
phonic literature,  for  reasons  by  no  means  disgraceful  to  the  popu- 
lar taste:  no  amount  of  hackneying  has  been  able  to  destroy  its 
fresh  and  wistful  charm.  The  second  movement  is  not  so  indispu- 
tably eternal — a  happy  inspiration,  yes,  but  wanting  the  breath- 
taking white  magic  of  the  first.  Critics  have  stood  on  their  heads 
trying  to  prove  that  these  two  movements  in  themselves  constitute 
a  musical  whole,  but  without  derogation  to  what  Schubert  found 
enthusiasm  to  compose,  it  can  be  stated  dogmatically  that  they  do 
no  such  thing.  They  are  as  clearly  part  of  a  larger  design  as  the 
choir  of  Beauvais  is  part  of  a  great  cathedral  church  that  was  never 
built.  The  "Unfinished"  Symphony  is  indeed  the  noblest  fragment 
in  music. 

After  the  final  wrecking  of  his  operatic  career,  Schubert  went 
again,  in  May,  1824, to  Sta7  with  th-e  Esterhazys  at  Zelesz.  Here  he 
seems  to  have  occupied  the  same  servile  position  he  had  six  years 
before.  This  did  not  prevent  him,  legend  has  it,  from  raising  his 
eyes  to  a  daughter  of  the  house,  the  seventeen-year-old  Countess 
Karolin.  Never  has  a  larger  bubble  been  blown  from  a  smaller 
pipe,  for  the  story  that  Schubert  was  deeply  enamored  of  this  high- 
born adolescent  rests  flimsily  on  two  statements,  only  one  of  which 
can  be  authenticated.  It  is  said  that  the  Countess  once  asked  him 
why  he  had  never  dedicated  anything  to  her,  and  he  replied, 
"Why,  because  everything  is  dedicated  to  you."  Certain  it  is  that 
he  wrote  to  Moritz  von  Schwind:  "In  spite  of  the  attraction  of  a 
certain  star,  I  am  longing  most  terribly  for  Vienna."  The  first  re- 
mark, if  it  was  ever  made,  is  a  piece  of  stereotyped  gallantry;  the 
expression  in  the  letter  is  hardly  that  of  a  lovelorn  man.  In  the 
meager  tale  of  Schubert's  loves,  there  is  far  more  likelihood  that 
he  was  deeply  attached  to  Therese  Grob?  who  as  little  more  than  a 
child  had  sung  in  one  of  his  early  Masses.  He  continued  to  walk 
out  with  her  for  some  years,  but  in  1820  she  married  a  rich  middle- 

*  By  torturing  the  rhythm  of  this  melody  into  waltz  time,  and  setting  it  to  moronic 
words,  the  perpetrators  of  Blossom  Time  evolved  one  of  the  great  smash-hit  ballads  of 
all  time. 

262  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

aged  baker,  presumably  after  realizing  that  Schubert  would  never 
be  able  to  support  her.  He  himself  once  remarked  that  he  would 
have  married  Therese  if  his  finances  had  permitted.  After  1822, 
when  his  disease  manifested  itself,  Schubert  never  again  spoke  of 
marrying.  There  is  no  evidence  that  being  denied  the  joys  of  do- 
mesticity ever  bothered  him  very  much:  here,  as  in  his  relations 
with  his  friends,  he  was  too  absorbed  in  music  to  have  any  strong 
desire  to  divide  his  allegiance. 

The  year  1825  was>  after  all  the  troubles  of  the  past  few  years, 
one  of  singular  happiness  for  Schubert.  His  health  was  much  im- 
proved, he  managed  to  sell  some  of  his  songs  for  a  fair  price — 
Artaria  paid  him  the  equivalent  of  $100  for  his  settings  of  Walter 
Scott,  including  the  famous  Ave  Maria* — and  in  the  summer  he 
again  tramped  through  Upper  Austria  and  the  Tirol  with  Vogl. 
Sir  George  Grove,  the  music  lexicographer,  firmly  believed  that 
while  at  Gastein  Schubert  completed  a  "Grand  Symphony"  in  C 
major.  If  he  did,  it  is  lost.  But  among  the  music  he  certainly  com- 
posed on  this  trip  was  the  Piano  Sonata  in  A  minor  (Opus  42). 

Schubert's  piano  music  is  a  microcosm  of  his  virtues  and  vices 
as  a  composer.  The  larger  works — the  two  fantasias  and  the  sona- 
tas— are  much  less  often  heard  than  the  smaller  ones,  and  not 
merely  because  they  offer  more  technical  problems.  They  are  far 
less  successful.  In  the  sonatas,  Schubert  stuck  manfully  to  classical 
form,  adorned  it  with  lovely  melodies,  and  just  when  a  Mozart  or 
a  Beethoven  would  have  been  most  absorbed  in  the  possibilities  of 
development  and  recapitulation,  succumbed  to  boredom.  His  re- 
grettable procedure  was  to  lengthen  the  movement  without  adding 
anything;  for  instance,  he  seems  often  to  have  conceived  of  re- 
capitulation as  nothing  but  slavish  repetition  in  another  key.  Such 
maundering  is  ruinous  to  the  design,  and  no  amount  of  inspired 
melody  can  triumph  over  it.  Of  his  more  than  twenty  sonatas,  not 
one  lacks  moments  of  poignant  lyricism — and  not  one  lacks  desert 
wastes.  Of  special  loveliness  are  one  in  A  major  (Opus  120)  and 
one  in  A  minor,  both  belonging  to  1825;  on  a  m°re  majestic  scale 
are  the  three  so-called  <eGrand  Sonatas,"  all  written  in  the  year  of 
Schubert's  death,  more  intellectual  in  their  contours,  richer  in  tex- 
ture, and  altogether  more  profound  in  material.  They,  too,  have 
their  moments  of  high  enchantment:  the  rondo  of  the  A  major  and 

*  The  words  are  a  German  translation  of  Ellen's  prayer  from  The  Lady  of  the  Lake. 


the  andante  sostenuto  of  the  B  flat  major  come  immediately  to 
mind.  Of  the  two  fantasias,  the  "Wanderer"  is  the  more  often  dis- 
cussed and  the  less  played:  it  is  an  interminable,  dreary  piece  of 
music  with  a  certain  grandiosity  that  often  enough  degenerates 
into  meaningless  and  apparently  automatic  shuttling.  The  G  major 
Fantasia,  a  far  superior  piece,  has  a  minimum  of  padding  and 
many  exquisite  pages,  including  a  minuet  as  lovely  in  its  way  as 
that  from  Don  Giovanni. 

The  smaller  piano  works — impromptus,  moments  musicaux,  waltzes, 
and  other  dances — are  another  matter.  Just  as,  despite  the  songs  of 
his  predecessors,  Schubert  may  be  said  without  exaggeration  to 
have  created  the  lied,  so,  too,  he  may  be  said  to  have  created  the 
kind  of  short  piano  piece  on  which  Schumann,  Chopin,  and  Brahms 
lavished  some  of  their  loveliest  inspirations.  Freed  from  the  bond- 
age of  classical  forms,  Schubert  abandoned  himself  completely  to 
his  melodies.  These  pieces  are  almost  never  too  long,  for  their 
length  was  truly  dictated  by  the  requirements  of  the  material.  They 
are  uncomplicated,  transparent,  easy  to  listen  to,  and  a  delight  to 
play.  Some  of  them  are  as  lyric  as  the  little  pieces  Mendelssohn 
called  Lieder  ohne  Worte;  others  are  pure  dance,  ancestors  of  the 
waltzes  of  Chopin  and  Brahrns;  finally,  certain  of  the  impromptus 
have  a  dramatic  character  that  Schubert  did  not  often  attain.  The 
repertoire  will  never  be  too  crowded  for  these  small  but  perfect 
compositions,  some  of  which  are  already  locked  enduringly  in  the 
hearts  of  mankind. 

Many  of  these  delectable  trifles  were  among  the  flood  of  compo- 
sitions that  issued  without  stint  from  Schubert's  pen  during  the 
otherwise  almost  completely  uneventful  last  three  years  of  his  life. 
Two  fine  string  quartets  belong  to  1826,  during  which,  on  a  single 
day,  he  tossed  off  Hark,  Hark,  the  Lark!  and  Wha  is  Sylvia?  The  great 
song  cycle  Die  Winterreise  came  in  1827,  t^e  string  quintet,  the 
"Grand  Sonatas,"  and  the  songs  later  collected  as  Schwanengesang 
in  1828.  Schubert's  finances  were  again  all  but  nonexistent,  and 
his  health  was  bad.  He  had  fallen  once  more  into  a  careless  way  of 
living,  drinking  freely,  keeping  late  hours,  and  neglecting  his  treat- 
ments, and  so  had  frequent  relapses.  He  tried  halfheartedly  to  bet- 
ter his  position,  but  in  vain.  The  post  ofvice-Hofkapellmeister  slipped 
through  his  fingers:  he  was  not  a  favorite  at  court.  The  conductor- 
ship  of  the  Kamtnerthortheater,  which  was  almost  in  tlte  bag. 


went  to  another  because  Schubert  refused  to  play  local  politics. 
And  so  on — an  increasingly  depressing  chronicle.  Early  in  March,, 
1827,  Anselm  Hiittenbrenner  showed  the  dying  Beethoven  a  large 
number  of  Schubert's  songs,  which  so  filled  him  with  generous  ad- 
miration that  he  burst  out  excitedly:  "Certainly  Schubert  has  the 
divine  spark!"  At  Beethoven's  request,  Schubert  went  twice  to  see 
him,  the  first  time  with  Hiittenbrenner.  Then  it  was  that  Beetho- 
ven is  reputed  to  have  said  to  them:  "You,  Anselm,  have  my  mind, 
but  Franz  has  my  soul.5'  On  Schubert's  second  visit,  Beethoven 
was  too  weak  to  talk,  and  the  motions  he  made  were  pathetically 
futile.  Schubert  was  overcome  with  emotion,  and  rushed  from  the 
house.  Three  weeks  later  he  was  a  torchbearer  at  Beethoven's 

The  year  1828  began  propitiously.  Schubert's  health  was  defi- 
nitely better,  he  sold  a  few  compositions  at  a  tithe  of  their  value, 
and,  besides,  he  seems  to  have  been  planning  an  unusually  long- 
range,  large-scale  program  of  work.  He  began  with  a  cantata  along 
Handelian  lines  (he  appears  to  have  fallen  heir  to  Beethoven's 
Handel  scores,  and  to  have  been  studying  them),  and  in  March, 
on  the  anniversary  of  Beethoven's  death,  gave  his  first  and  only 
public  concert,  the  program  being  made  up  exclusively  of  his  own 
works.  He  was  so  well  received  that  it  is  a  wonder  he  never  tried 
the  experiment  again.  With  the  proceeds — rather  more  than  $150 
— he  lived  high  for  a  while,  and  it  is  characteristic  of  his  careless 
generosity  that  he  went  a  second  time  to  hear  Paganini  merely  for 
the  pleasure  of  treating  a  friend  even  poorer  than  himself. 

March,  1828,  was  doubly  remarkable,  for  it  was  also  then  that 
Schubert  began  the  composition  of  the  C  major  Symphony,  which 
many  consider  his  masterpiece.  It  was  written  at  breakneck  speed, 
put  into  rehearsal  by  the  Gesellschaft  der  Musikfreunde,  and  then 
shelved  as  too  long  and  too  difficult.  It  lay  among  his  brother 
Ferdinand's  papers  until  1838,  when  it  was  rescued  by  Robert 
Schumann,  and  handed  over  to  Mendelssohn,  who  first  performed 
it  at  Leipzig  the  same  year.  In  rejecting  the  C  major  Symphony, 
the  Gesellschaft  was  right  in  one  respect:  no  amount  of  referring  to 
it  as  "the  symphony  of  heavenly  length"  can  alter  the  fact  that 
it  is  far  too  long.  Yet  there  is  ample  evidence  that  Schubert,  doubt- 
less because  his  friends  constantly  urged  him  to  study  Beethoven's 
methods  of  work,  labored  over  this  symphony.  The  21 8-page  man- 


uscript  is  by  no  means  the  miraculously  fair  copy  he  usually  pro- 
vided: it  is  starred  with  erasures  and  penknife  marks — second  and 
third  thoughts,  corrections. 

The  C  major  Symphony  is  Schubert's  masterpiece,  but  not  a 
Schubertian  masterpiece.  It  is  a  big,  impressive  work,  often  rest- 
less and  impassioned,  dark  and  tragic  in  its  harmonies,  and  alto- 
gether planned  on  a  vastness  of  scale  that  the  impatient  Schubert 
must  have  needed  a  new  stamina  to  handle.  It  is  orchestrated  with 
unusual  care  and  boldness,  and  shows  an  exquisite  sensitivity  to 
the  color  range  of  the  instruments  separately  and  in  combination. 
Schubert  aimed  at  new  effects,  and  achieved  them  with  ease  and 
a  minimum  of  miscalculation — the  "digression"  for  trombones 
pianissimo  in  the  first  movement  is  a  peculiarly  magical  example. 
The  main  themes  throughout,  particularly  the  first  subjects  of  the 
andante  and  the  andante  con  moto,  are  the  stuff  of  which  great 
music  can  be  made,  utterly  beautiful  in  themselves  and  susceptible 
of  infinite  development.  But  alas!  it  was  again  on  the  rock  of  de- 
velopment that  Schubert  foundered.  After  proving  conclusively 
that  he  could  write  page  after  page  of  great  symphonic  music,  he 
seems  to  have  unfocused  his  attention  on  the  extremely  difficult 
business  at  hand,  and  to  have  lapsed  into  a  vein  of  irrelevant  gar- 
rulousness.  Thus,  the  C  major  concludes  on  a  maundering,  incon- 
sequential note  after  a  beginning  as  promising  as  any  symphony 
ever  had. 

As  we  have  seen,  the  C  major  Symphony  was  but  one  great 
work  in  a  year  of  great  works.  Poverty  and  adversity  seemed  to 
spur  Schubert  on.  By  the  summer  of  1828,  he  realized  sadly  that 
he  would  have  to  forgo  his  vacation  in  the  country:  "Money  and 
weather  are  both  against  me,"  he  wrote  with  bitter  humor.  In 
September,  however,  he  was  so  run  down  that  his  physician  in- 
sisted on  more  fresh  air  and  exercise.  Accordingly,  he  took  a  brief 
walking  tour  in  the  Viennese  countryside,  lived  abstemiously,  and 
felt  a  new  access  of  animal  spirits.  Nevertheless,  on  his  return  home, 
he  was  at  once  stricken  by  his  old  complaint,  this  time  accompa- 
nied by  dire  mental  concomitants:  he  thought  that  he  was  being 
poisoned;  he  walked  around  for  hours  in  a  complete  daze.  Amid 
this  agony  of  mind  and  body,  the  passion  for  his  art  burned  un- 
damped. Only  a  fortnight  before  the  end,  he  arranged  to  take  les- 
sons in  counterpoint  from  Simon  Sechter,  an  eminent  theorist  who. 

266  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

twenty-seven  years  later,  was  to  become  the  teacher  of  Anton 
Bruckner.  On  November  n,  he  wrote  a  pathetic  letter  to  Von 
Schober,  telling  him  of  violent  nausea  and  asking  for  some  novels 
by  James  Fenimore  Cooper.  Three  days  later,  he  was  able  to  dis- 
cuss a  new  libretto,  but  by  evening  was  delirious.  The  next  day 
this  new  turn  for  the  worse  was  diagnosed  as  typhus,  the  type  dis- 
ease of  city  slums.  In  his  feverish  ravings  he  uttered  the  name  of 
Beethoven:  apparently,  to  Schubert's  poor  tortured  mind,  the  fact 
that  Beethoven  was  not  with  him  meant  that  he  had  been  buried 
alive.  The  agony  finally  ended  on  Wednesday,  November  19,  1828. 
They  buried  him  the  following  Friday.  He  who  had  in  his  life- 
time of  genius  earned  less  than  the  equivalent  of  $3000,  left  an 
"estate"— old  clothes  and  old  music,  mostly — too  small  to  pay  for 
even  the  poorest  funeral.  His  father  and  his  brother  Ferdinand 
strapped  themselves  to  bury  him  where  they  were  convinced  he 
would  have  preferred  to  be — as  near  Beethoven's  grave  as  possi- 
ble. Early  in  1829,  from  the  proceeds  of  some  special  concerts,  a 
monument  was  erected  back  of  the  grave,  with  the  following  epi- 
taph from  the  pen  of  Schubert's  friend  the  poet  Grillparzer: 


The  epitaph  caused  violent  controversies  at  the  time,  but  in  the 
main  it  was  eminently  fair.  Today  no  one  denies  that  much  of 
Schubert's  music  is  "a  rich  treasure,"  and  those  who  are  realistic 
even  about  their  idols  will  admit  that  "still  fairer  hopes"  is  equally 
just — and  not  merely  in  the  way  Grillparzer  meant  it.  He  was 
mourning  for  this  Keats  of  music,  cut  off  thus  untimely.  We  mourn, 
too,  that  (unlike  Keats)  Schubert,  with  perhaps  the  richest  natural 
endowment  ever  vouchsafed  a  musical  artist,  used  it  with  complete 
success  only  in  the  realm  of  the  song.  He  was,  as  Liszt  said  of  him, 
"the  most  poetic  of  all  musicians."  Had  he  but  been  the  most 
musicianly  as  well,  he  might  indeed  be  where  he  would  most  want 
to  be — next  to  Beethoven. 

Chapter  XI 

Felix  Mendelssohn-Bartholdy 

(Hamburg>  February  3,  iSog-November  4,  1847,  Leipzig) 

story  of  Felix  Mendelssohn  is  that  of  a  Prince  Charming. 
JL  When  he  was  born,  amid  the  rejoicings  and  Gemuthlichkeit  at- 
tending the  birth  of  an  heir  to  a  prosperous  Jewish  family,  the  good 
fairies  were  ranged  around  his  cradle.  One  of  them  gave  him 
riches,,  another  beauty,  another  charm.  Their  sisters  on  the  other 
side  of  the  cradle  were  not  to  be  outdone,  and  from  them  the  baby 
received  genius,  a  capacity  for  hard  work,  a  noble  character,  and 
a  strong  constitution.  The  conclave  of  fairy  godmothers  was  about 
to  break  up  in  complacent  jollification  when  a  silvery  but  unfa- 
miliar voice  was  heard:  it  belonged,  alas!  to  a  fairy  whom  they  had 
thoughtlessly  forgotten  to  invite.  In  the  most  dulcet  of  tones,  she 
declared  that  she,  too,  had  a  gift  for  the  child-  "Throughout  his 
life,"  she  purred,  "I  shall  see  to  it  that  he  does  everything  easily 
and  without  effort."  Her  more  dull-witted  sisters  thought  this  the 
best  gift  of  all.  The  brighter  ones  merely  pursed  their  lips. 

Mendelssohn's  is  the  happiest  life  in  musical  history.  He  was 
brought  up  in  a  cultivated  household  by  sympathetic  parents  who 
from  the  very  beginning  fostered  his  musical  ambitions.  At  a  ten- 
der age  he  enjoyed  the  intimate  friendship  of  the  undisputed  lit- 
erary dictator  of  Europe,  and  all  his  life  he  had  many  warm — and 
influential — friends  whose  principal  object  in  life  seems  to  have 
been  to  serve  him.  Success  came  to  him  in  the  fullest  measure  at 
an  absurdly  early  age,  and  at  twenty-six  he  occupied  the  most  im- 
portant post  in  musical  Germany.  He  married,  without  the  slight- 
est opposition,  the  woman  of  his  choice — a  pretty,  intelligent,  and 
talented  girl  with  whom  he  led  a  life  of  unblemished  happiness, 
heightened,  moreover,  by  five  delightful  children.  Before  reaching 
young  middle  age,  he  was  the  most  revered  composer  in  Europej 
and  just  when  the  first  real  clouds  appeared  on  the  horizon  of  his 
happiness,  he  died  speedily  and  without  pain. 

Mendelssohn's  ancestry  was  distinguished.  His  grandfather, 
Moses  Mendelssohn,  was  called  "the  modern  Plato":  one  of  his 
philosophical  books  had  been  translated  into  at  least  eight  lan- 


268  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

guages,  and  Mirabeau,  in  the  midst  of  stage-managing  the  French 
Revolution,  found  time  to  praise  it.  His  lifelong  battle  to  effect  a 
sympathetic  understanding  between  Jews  and  Christians  was  waged 
so  eloquently  that  his  son  Abraham,  Felix5  father,  became  a  Lu- 
theran, appending  Bartholdy  to  his  surname  to  distinguish  himself 
from  Mendelssohns  still  adhering  to  the  Jewish  faith.  This  estima- 
ble man,  a  successful  banker  and  connoisseur  of  ideas,  had  a  lively 
sense  of  his  own  sterling  mediocrity:  after  Felix  had  become  fa- 
mous he  once  gently  complained,  "I  used  to  be  the  son  of  my 
father,  and  now  I'm  the  father  of  my  son." 

Abraham  Mendelssohn  married  a  rich,  amiable,  and  intelligent 
girl,  and  they  set  up  housekeeping  at  Hamburg.  Their  first  child 
was  a  girl,  Fanny,  who  became  a  talented  pianist  and  a  composer 
of  sorts.  Felix  appeared  next  on  the  scene.  When  he  was  three 
years  old,  the  family  fled  to  Berlin  in  the  path  of  Napoleon's  Rus- 
siabound  legions,  and  there  it  was  that  the  tiny  lad  began  his 
studies.  There  was  nothing  provincial  or  restricted  about  the  cur- 
riculum laid  down  by  the  doting  but  thoughtful  parents  for  their 
wonderful  children.  Their  days  were  crowded  with  lessons  of  all 
sorts — piano,  violin,  harmony,  drawing,  languages — so  crowded, 
in  fact,  that  Felix  later  said  that  he  lived  in  anticipation  of  Sunday, 
for  that  meant  he  would  not  have  to  get  up  at  five  o'clock  in  the 
morning  to  work.  Nevertheless,  he  responded  to  this  cramming 
system  as  a  duck  does  to  water,  and  in  a  very  short  time  was  sitting 
easily  among  the  adults,  discussing  the  most  learned  questions  with 
the  gravity  of  the  young  Jesus  disputing  with  the  rabbis  of  the 
Temple.  Nor  was  his  moral  education  likely  to  be  neglected  in  so 
comprehensive  a  schooling:  here,  too,  he  seems  to  have  had  a 
natural  adaptability — he  never  had  to  struggle  to  be  good.  A  work 
schedule  that  would  drive  a  modern  child  berserk  produced  only 
the  happiest  results  in  him,  doubtless  because  the  family  also  knew 
how  to  have  a  good  time.  There  is  testimony  galore — the  Men- 
delssohns entertained  lavishly  and  often — that  the  house  resounded 
with  gaiety  and  fun.  There  were  plenty  of  games,  plenty  of  good 
talk,  plenty  of  good  things  to  eat.  Plenty,  indeed,  was  the  keynote 
of  the  Mendelssohn  home,  and  the  center  of  all  its  activity  was  the 
boy  Felix — a  slender,  high-strung  child,  with  great  dark  eyes  and 
a  mop  of  curly  brown  hair,  mercurial,  sensitive,  bubbling  over 
with  high  spirits. 


Felix  quickly  established  himself  as  Mozart's  only  rival  as  far  as 
musical  precocity  was  concerned.  On  October  28,  1818,  he  made 
his  first  public  appearance,  as  a  pianist  in  a  concerto  for  two  horns 
and  piano.  For  some  time  he  had  been  taking  harmony  and  com- 
position lessons  from  Carl  Friedrich  Zelter,  the  director  of  the 
Singakademie,  which  he  entered  in  1819  as  an  alto.  By  the  end  of 
the  next  year,  when  he  was  eleven  years  old,  he  had  composed 
more  than  sixty  separate  pieces,  among  them  a  cantata  and  a  little 
Lustspiel  in  three  scenes.  The  next  five  years  teem  with  incredible 
musical  productivity,  and  even  before  this  period  reached  its  term, 
Mendelssohn  had  achieved  a  facility  and  finish  of  technique  be- 
yond which  progress  was  impossible.  The  difference  between  his 
now  unplayed  juvenilia  and  the  best  works  of  his  maturity  is  that 
the  former  spin  out  prosy  commonplaces  with  uncanny  adroitness 
while  the  latter  have  real  distinction  of  musical  idea.  A  C  minor 
Symphony,  actually  the  thirteenth  he  had  composed,  but  the  first 
he  was  willing  to  own  up  to,  is  very  occasionally  revived:  it  is 
pleasant,  uneventful  stuff,  with,  however,  a  minuet  of  considerable 
verve  and  grace.  Meanwhile,  the  lad  developed  rapidly  as  a  pian- 
ist, and  in  1824  Ignaz  Moscheles,  at  thirty  already  a  most  distin- 
guished virtuoso  and  pedagogue,  was  persuaded  to  give  him  a  few 
lessons.  Moscheles  agreed  with  extreme  diffidence,  saying,  cTf  he 
wishes  to  take  a  hint  from  me  as  to  anything  new  to  him,  he  can 
easily  do  so;  but  he  stands  in  no  need  of  lessons."  Already  FeHx 
was  a  poised  and  competent  conductor.  For  some  years,  it  was  the 
Mendelssohns'  custom  to  give  musical  parties  on  alternate  Sun- 
days, when  the  children*  joined  a  small  group  of  professional  mu- 
sicians in  programs  that  always  included  at  least  one  of  Felix3 
compositions.  Even  while  still  too  short  to  be  seen  above  the  in- 
struments without  standing  on  a  stool,  the  boy  always  took  the 
baton  on  these  occasions. 

In  May,  1821,  Mendelssohn  met  Weber,  who  was  in  Berlin  su- 
perintending the  rehearsals  of  Der  Freischiltz,  and  was  present  at 
the  memorable  premiere  that  ushered  in  a  new  era  in  German  music. 
Responding  excitedly  to  the  novel  style,  with  its  glowing  color  and 
romantic  atmosphere,  he  conceived  a  lifelong  admiration  for  Weber, 
whose  idiom  he  adapted  lavishly,  particularly  in  his  overtures. 

*  There  were  two  children  younger  than  Fanny  and  Felix:  Rebecka,  who  sang, 
and  Paul,  who  played  the  cello. 

27O  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

After  meeting  Weber,  Mendelssohn  within  a  very  few  years  was  on 
friendly  terms  with  many  of  the  most  famous  personages  in  Eu- 
rope, In  November,  1821,  he  visited  Weimar  for  the  first  time,  and 
spent  more  than  a  fortnight  as  Goethe's  guest.  When  they  first  met, 
Goethe  asked  the  boy  to  play  something  for  him.  "Shall  it  be  the 
most  beautiful  music  in  the  world?"  Felix  asked,  as  he  sat  down  to 
the  piano  and  played  the  minuet  from  Don  Giovanni.  The  relation- 
ship between  the  seventy-two-year-old  philosopher-poet  and  the 
twelve-year-old  composer  was  neither  artificial  nor  perfunctory: 
it  was  a  real  friendship  that  lasted  until  Goethe's  death  in  1832. 
Several  years  later,  Mendelssohn  accompanied  his  father  to  Paris, 
where  he  made  many  new  acquaintances,  among  them  Rossini 
and  Meyerbeer.  The  formidable  Cherubini,  after  astounding  his 
confreres  by  approving  of  the  lad,  with  austerely  pedantic  con- 
descension invited  him  to  set  a  Kyrie  for  five  voices  and  orchestra. 
Mendelssohn,  who  was  a  polite  child,  did  so,  and  contented  him- 
self with  saying  of  the  old  Italian  that  he  was  an  "extinct  volcano, 
still  throwing  out  occasional  flashes  and  sparks,  but  quite  covered 
with  ashes  and  stones.1'  For  French  music  in  general  he  felt  noth- 
ing but  the  most  profound  scorn. 

Only  one  magnifico  stood  out  against  Mendelssohn's  overwhelm- 
ing charm  and  precocious  gifts:  Spontini,  still  smarting  from  his 
defeat  at  Weber's  hands,  used  his  all-powerful  position  in  Berlin  to 
prevent  Die  Hochzeit  des  Camacho,  a  two-act  opera  Felix  had  com- 
pleted on  his  return  from  Paris,  from  being  given  at  the  Kofoper. 
Spontini,  who  was  mortally  afraid  of  new  talent,  tried  to  discour- 
age him  with  pompous  criticism.  "My  friend,5'  he  said,  pointing  to 
the  dome  of  a  church,  "you  lack  big  ideas — big  like  that  dome." 
Maybe  Spontini  was  right:  Mendelssohn  himself  was  disappointed 
in  the  opera  when  it  finally  reached  the  stage  in  1827,  and  was  not 
noticeably  crushed  when,  despite  popular  acclaim,  it  was  with- 
drawn after  the  premiere.  Even  the  overture,  still  heard  now  and 
then,  is  a  jejune  bit. 

Up  to  1826  Mendelssohn's  compositions  had  not  unnaturally 
been  distinguished  by  little  more  than  facility  and  earnestness. 
Wunderkinder  have  a  disheartening  way  of  petering  out,  and  even 
though  no  composer  except  Mozart  did  much  of  importance  be- 
fore he  was  twenty,  Mendelssohn's  admirers  must  already  have 
been  wondering  whether  the  seventeen-year-old  was  to  develop 


into  something  more  than  a  surpassingly  competent  third-rater. 
They  had  not  long  to  wait,  for  even  then  he  was  working  on  a 
masterpiece.  He  and  his  sisters  had  been  reading  Shakespeare,  and 
a  whole  new  world  of  magic  had  been  opened  up  to  him.  Nothing 
fired  his  imagination  more  than  the  lightness  and  elfin  fantasy  of 
A  Midsummer  Night's  Dream.  He  set  down  his  musical  impressions 
in  a  piano  duet,  which  sounded  so  promising  that  he  decided  to 
orchestrate  it  as  an  overture.  It  was  first  performed  privately  in 
the  Gartenhaus  of  the  Mendelssohns'  new  home  at  3,  Leipziger- 
strasse,  for  many  years  a  rendezvous  of  musicians  and  artists  from 
all  over  Europe.  Six  months  later,  in  February,  1827,  Felix  drove 
more  than  eighty  miles  through  a  blinding  snowstorm  to  conduct 
the  public  premiere  at  Stettin. 

The  overture  to  A  Midsummer  Nigkfs  Dream  became  during  Men- 
delssohn's life,  and  has  ever  since  remained,  the  best  loved  of  his 
purely  orchestral  compositions.  After  a  few  evocative  chords,  it 
opens  with  a  rippling  staccato  figure  that  instantly  sets  the  scene  in 
Fairyland,  and  for  the  most  obvious  of  reasons — no  mortal  could 
dance  to  this  aerial  rhythm.  Momentarily  the  dance  is  interrupted 
by  a  sweetly  dissonant  chord,  there  is  a  hint  of  hurly-burly,  and  we 
hear  the  horns  of  Duke  Theseus.  He  and  his  train  pass  by;  the 
dancers  resume,  only  to  be  crowded  from  the  scene  by  the  mortal 
lovers.  With  nice  calculation,  Mendelssohn  has  given  these  young 
people  a  more  earthbound  theme,  a  broadly  romantic  melody  of 
Weberian  character  that  not  only  affords  a  telling  musical  con- 
trast, but  also  beautifully  points  up  their  muddled  loves.  What  can 
be  more  natural  at  this  point  than  to  introduce  a  reference  to 
Bottom  and  the  other  clownish  actors  by  a  rustic  dance  with  the 
veriest  hint  of  peasant  buskins?  The  rest  of  the  overture  is  made  up 
of  recapitulation  and  development  of  these  themes.  All  is  exqui- 
sitely designed,  thought  out  with  flawless  logic,  and  reverently 
adapted  to  the  spirit  of  Shakespeare's  play.  The  harmonies  through- 
out are  bold  without  being  obtrusive.  They  were  revolutionary  in 
Mendelssohn's  time,  and  have  only  now  become  commonplaces. 
The  orchestration  is  equally  original.  Of  this  overture,  Bernard 
Shaw,  in  1892,  wrote  with  evident  surprise:  "One  can  actually  feel 
the  novelty  now,  after  sixty-six  years."  And  today,  after  almost 
sixty  years  more,  though  we  can  no  longer  experience  it  as  a  nov- 

272  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

elty,  its  true  originality  keeps  it  fresh.  Altogether,  it  is  an  amazing 
composition  for  a  boy  of  seventeen. 

It  is  all  the  more  amazing  when  considered  as  merely  one  of  the 
coruscations  of  a  life  abnormal  only  in  its  extreme  activity.  Before 
the  overture  was  finished,  Mendelssohn  had  matriculated  at  the 
University  of  Berlin,  where  he  listened  with  relish  to  Hegel's  lec- 
tures on  the  esthetics  of  music.  Moreover,  he  went  about  building 
his  physique  as  conscientiously  as  his  mind,  and  became  a  fine 
swimmer  and  rider.  He  danced  elegantly,  played  a  stiff  game  of 
billiards,  and  bowled  on  the  green.  In  short,  he  had  the  accom- 
plishments of  a  gentleman,  and  the  graces  as  well.  The  world  of 
art  and  fashion  came  to  3,  Leipzigerstrasse,  and  as  Mendelssohn 
reached  young  manhood,  he  assumed  with  ease  a  leading  role  in 
these  gatherings,  and  bore  with  equanimity  the  penalty  of  being 
the  cynosure  of  all  eyes.  With  his  great  musical  future  almost  upon 
him,  he  became  a  better  than  mediocre  water-colorist,  and  de- 
veloped his  linguistic  aptitude  (he  was  the  first  to  translate  Terence 
into  German  in  the  original  meter).  If  in  these  early  years  he.  was 
not  the  most  famous  person  at  the  parties,  he  was  the  most  preco- 
cious in  genius,  the  most  varied  in  talent.  The  conversation  must 
have  been  worth  listening  to:  Heine's  alone  would  have  made  any 
soiree  memorable,  and  the  presence  of  Alexander  von  Humboldt, 
scientist  and  world  traveler,  Bettina  von  Arnim,  Wilhelm  Miiller, 
Hegel,  and  the  macabre  Paganini,  trailing  clouds  of  spurious  glory, 
guaranteed  variety. 

As  if  this  were  not  enough,  Mendelssohn,  in  the  last  months  of 

1827,  formed  a  choir  of  sixteen  picked  voices  to  meet  weekly  at  his 
home  and  practice  the  Matthew  Passion.  Even  as  a  child,  he  had 
been  passionately  devoted  to  the  neglected  masterpieces  of  the  old 
Thomascantor,  and  now  was  stung  into  action  by  the  casual  re- 
mark of  another  musician  that  "Bach  is  a  mere  arithmetical  exer- 
cise." Mendelssohn  knew  the  Passion  by  heart,  and  soon  his  own 
enthusiasm  was  communicated  to  the  little  group.  By  the  end  of 

1828,  they  were  determined  that  the  work  should  be  given  by  the 
Singakademie,  where  his  old  teacher,  Zelter,  still  reigned  as  direc- 
tor. Despite  Mendelssohn's  own  feeling  that  the  work's  huge  phys- 
ical requirements  and  the  indifference  .of  the  public  were  cogent 
arguments  for  not  pushing  production  plans,  in  which  opinion  he 
was  supported  by  his  family  and  several  of  his  friends,  he  allowed 


his  own  devotion  to  the  music  and  the  crusading  zeal  of  the  versa- 
tile actor-singer,  Eduard  Devrient,  to  propel  his  reluctant  feet  to 
the  Singakademie,  where  he  hesitatingly  stammered  out  the  pro- 
posal. At  first,  Zelter  was  opposed,  but  when  Devrient  joined  his 
own  pleas  to  Mendelssohn's,  the  day  was  won.  Zelter,  having  given 
his  word,  threw  the  whole  force  of  the  Singakademie  behind  the 
production.  The  public  was  so  curious  about  the  novel  doings  that 
it  flocked  to  the  rehearsals.  For  the  performance  itself,  on  March 
n,  1829,  with  Mendelssohn  conducting,  more  than  a  thousand 
were  turned  away.  It  was  the  first  performance  of  the  Matthew 
Passion  outside  Leipzig  since  Bach's  death  almost  eighty  years 

From  these  casual  beginnings  sprang  the  dissemination  of  what 
has  proved  the  most  fruitful  musical  influence  of  modern  times. 
Others,  including  Schumann,  soon  joined  the  cause  of  Bach — it 
really  was  a  cause  in  those  days — and  within  a  century  Bach  has 
changed  in  the  public  mind  from  "a  mere  arithmetical  exercise33 
to  a  position  where  he  is  acclaimed,  with  pardonable  inaccuracy, 
as  the  Father  of  Music.  We  who  take  our  Bach  for  granted  as  one 
of  the  staples  of  popular  musical  entertainment  can  scarcely  re- 
alize that  Mendelssohn  and  his  scant  cohorts  were  in  the  most  real 
sense  pioneers:  the  first  steps  in  this  revival  took  courage,  and  often 
aroused  antagonism.  There  was  even  some  display  of  hostility 
against  Mendelssohn  over  the  first  performance  of  the  Passion.  For- 
tunately, he  was  fully  aware  of  the  importance  of  the  task  he  was 
undertaking,  and  was  resolved  to  brook  no  opposition  in  ppeaching 
his  new  gospel.  He  was  proud  of  his  part  in  the  business,  and  once 
pointed  out  that  "it  was  an  actor  and  a  Jew  who  restored  this 
great  Christian  work  to  the  people."  This  seems  to  have  been  the 
only  time  he  ever  referred  to  his  race,  for  having  been  baptized  a 
Lutheran,  he  always  thought  of  himself  as  a  Christian. 

After  conducting  a  second  performance  of  the  Matthew  Passion 
on  Bach's  birthday  s  Mendelssohn  took  ship  for  England,  embark- 
ing at  Hamburg  and  reaching  London  four  days  later.  He  arrived 
at  the  height  of  the  opera  season,  and  for  a  time  did  nothing  but 
frequent  Covent  Garden  and  the  theaters.  He  heard  Malibran  as 
Desdemona  in  Rossini's  Otello;  he  saw  Kemble  as  Hamlet,  and 
deplored  the  performance — too  many  cuts  for  such  a  strict  Shake- 
spearean. It  was  not  until  late  in  May  that  he  got  around  to  making 

274  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

his  English  debut,  conducting  his  own  C  minor  Symphony  from 
the  piano  at  a  Philharmonic  concert.  It  was  a  heart-warming  oc- 
casion, especially  after  the  recent  hostility  of  a  bloc  of  Berlin  mu- 
sicians— act  one,  in  fact,  of  that  long-drawn-out  love  affair  between 
Mendelssohn  and  the  English  public  that  is  still  going  strong.  A 
few  days  later,  dressed  in  "very  long  white  trousers,  brown  silk 
waistcoat,  black  necktie,  and  blue  dress  coat,35  he  played  Weber's 
Conzertstuck  "with  no  music  before  him,"  as  The  Times  put  it.  Ev- 
erywhere the  crowds  succumbed  to  his  charm,  and  soon  he  was 
writing  home,  "London  life  suits  me  exactly":  the  English  did  not 
know  much  about  music,  but  they  knew  what  they  liked,  and  they 
liked  Mendelssohn.  As  the  trip  to  England  was  originally  planned 
by  his  father  as  but  the  first  stage  in  a  grand  tour,  in  the  summer 
Mendelssohn  toured  Scotland  and  Wales,  whose  wild  scenery  and 
ruined  abbeys  gave  him  ideas  that  he  later  used  in  such  musical 
landscapes  as  those  in  the  "Scotch"  Symphony  and  FingaVs  Cave. 
Toward  the  end  of  the  year,  he  was  back  in  the  cooler  atmosphere 
of  Berlin,  with  his  reputation  completely  established  in  the  British 
Isles.  He  was  not  yet  twenty-one  years  old. 

Nursing  a  lame  knee  sustained  in  a  carriage  accident  in  London, 
Mendelssohn  improved  the  shining  hours  by  composing  the  "Ref- 
ormation" Symphony  to  commemorate  the  tercentenary  of  the 
Augsburg  Confession.  It  turned  out  to  be  solid,  pompous  music 
with  a  setting  of  Ein  feste  Burg  imbedded  in  the  last  movement. 
Political  and  religious  disturbances  prevented  its  performance  in 
Germany  in  1830;  the  good  sense  of  a  Paris  orchestra  let  it  get  no 
farther  than  rehearsal  in  1832;  today  a  revival  of  this  windy  tract 
is  rightly  resented. 

Early  in  1830,  Mendelssohn  was  offered  a  specially  created  pro- 
fessorship of  music  at  the  University  of  Berlin,  but  refused  it: 
Switzerland  and  Italy  remained  to  be  done,  and  the  last  thing  in 
the  world  he  wanted  was  to  be  tied  down.  An  undignified  case  of 
measles  delayed  his  departure,  but  in  May  he  was  at  last  ready. 
Halting  at  Weimar  for  what  proved  to  be  his  last  visit  with  Goethe, 
and  stopping  en  route  at  the  best  houses  and  consorting  with  the 
best  people,  he  proceeded  by  such  easy  stages  that  he  did  not  ar- 
rive in  Rome  until  November.  Here  he  visited  the  art  museums, 
haunted  the  Sistine  Chapel,  and  duly  astonished  the  Roman  mu- 
sicians with  his  fluid  musicianship.  He  could  not  get  the  Gregorian 


chant  through  his  Lutheran  head — in  fact,  the  subtleties  of  the 
Roman  service  were  incomprehensible  to  his  irascibly  Protestant 
temper.  He  managed  to  unearth  a  few  fine  things  in  Palestrina,  as 
he  admitted  to  Baini,  the  most  erudite  of  latter-day  Palestrinians. 
In  general,  however,  Rome  wore  as  alien  an  aspect  to  Mendelssohn 
as  it  had  to  an  Augustinian  monk  named  Martin  Luther,  three 
hundred  years  before.  Appropriately,  it  was  in  this  winter  city 
that  he  completed  the  first  version  of  the  somber  FingaVs  Cave. 

Naples  appealed  to  him  more — though  even  there  he  longed  for 
London — and  its  lightness  and  unthinking  gaiety  echo  through 
some  of  his  later  compositions.  After  six  weeks'  delicious  dawdling, 
Mendelssohn  remembered  that  he  was  a  German,  and  started 
north.  In  Milan  he  played  Mozart  to  the  composer's  son  Karl.  In 
Switzerland  he  amazed  some  monks  by  introducing  them  to  the 
organ  fugues  of  Bach,  a  composer  previously  unknown  to  them. 
September  found  him  hobnobbing  with  the  King  of  Bavaria  in 
Munich,  where  he  composed,  and  played  for  the  first  time,  his 
second-rate  G  minor  Piano  Concerto.  Before  Christmas  he  was  in 
Paris,  which  proved  less  susceptible  to  his  charms  than  London. 
The  Societe  des  Concerts  du  Conservatoire  did  the  overture  to  A 
Midsummer  Nighfs  Dream,  balked  at  the  "Reformation"  Symphony 
— and  left  Mendelssohn  severely  alone  for  eleven  years.  The  cool- 
ness of  Paris  was  disheartening  enough,  but  here,  too,  he  received 
news  that  Goethe  had  died  at  Weimar.  Around  Mendelssohn  in 
Paris  shone  the  glitter  of  mid-nineteenth-century  music:  Liszt,  him- 
self to  rule  at  Weimar  before  many  years  had  passed,  Chopin^ 
Meyerbeer,  and  Ole  Bull,  half  genius,  half  charlatan,  heir  to  Paga- 
nini's  crown.  Mendelssohn  lingered  in  Paris  for  four  months,  living 
the  life  of  a  well-behaved  society  butterfly,  but  completely  failing 
to  establish  himself  musically. 

In  April,  1832,  Mendelssohn  reached  London  again.  The  "smoky 
nest"  he  had  pined  for  in  Naples  now  showed  its  fairest  face,  and 
one  he  had  not  previously  seen:  the  weather  was  balmy,  the  lilacs 
were  in  blossom — and  he  fell  more  than  ever  in  love  with  the  city. 
He  was  received  with  open  arms,  and  responded  by  a  fine  burst  of 
musical  activity,  playing  both  piano  and  organ  in  public,  arrang- 
ing various  of  his  pieces  (notably  Book  I  of  the  Lieder  ohm  Worte) 
for  publication,  and  composing  the  Capriccio  brillant,  a  clever  bra- 
vura piece  for  piano  and  orchestra.  Most  important,  on  May  14, 

276  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

the  Philharmonic  performed  the  "Hebrides"  Overture.  Mendels- 
sohn was  not  satisfied  with  it:  he  at  once  revised  it  radically,  and 
by  the  end  of  June  had  finished  what  was  essentially  a  new  work. 
Known  under  a  variety  of  titles,  among  them  FingaVs  Cave,  the 
''Hebrides"  Overture  disputes  place  with  that  to  A  Midsummer 
Nighfs  Dream  in  quality.  We  have  the  composer's  own  testimony 
that  the  lapping  figure  with  which  it  opens  came  into  his  mind 
during  his  visit  to  Fingal's  Cave  in  the  remote  Hebrides.  Wagner, 
with  his  genius  for  trivializing  the  truth,  sneeringly  called  the  over- 
ture an  aquarelle.  Actually,  it  is  one  of  the  great  seascapes  of  music. 
The  severity  and  aptness  of  the  themes,  unquestionably  among 
Mendelssohn's  happiest  inspirations,  the  utter  sufficiency  of  the  de- 
velopment, and  the  uncanny  balancing  of  the  instruments — all 
contribute  to  a  formal  perfection  that  has,  as  Tovey  says,  "the  vital 
and  inevitable  unexpectedness  of  the  classics."  In  the  "Hebrides" 
Mendelssohn  wins  the  right  to  be  called  a  great  composer,  for 
starting  with  material  of  surpassing  beauty  and  originality,  he  lov- 
ingly molds  it  into  a  form  exactly  suited  to  its  requirements. 

Mendelssohn  was  still  in  London  when  news  reached  him  of 
Zelter's  death:  this  meant  that  the  directorship  of  the  Singakade- 
mie,  a  post  of  great  prestige,  was  open.  On  returning  to  Berlin,  he 
indicated  that  he  would  accept  the  position  if  elected,  but  refused 
to  push  his  candidacy  against  that  of  Carl  Friedrich  Rungenhagen, 
long  Zelter's  first  aide.  It  turned  out  that  assuming  this  passive 
role  was  the  most  tactful  thing  Mendelssohn  could  have  done:  he 
was  not  liked  among  the  petty,  spiteful  musicians  of  the  Prussian 
capital,  and  Rungenhagen' s  election  was  all  but  certain  from  the 
beginning.  Mendelssohn  accepted  his  overwhelming  defeat  calmly, 
but  it  clouded  his  temper,  and  made  him  eager  to  leave  Berlin  for  a 
more  congenial  arena.  An  offer  to  conduct  the  important  Lower 
Rhine  Festival  at  Diisseldorf  the  following  spring  assuaged  his 
vexed  spirit.  Close  on  its  heels  came  a  most  flattering  bid  from  the 
London  Philharmonic,  accompanied  by  a  hundred-guinea  order 
for  a  new  symphony  and  other  pieces.  He  at  once  began  complet- 
ing an  A  major  symphony  he  had  begun  in  Italy  in  1831.  Oddly 
enough  for  so  facile  a  composer,  the  process  caused  him  acute 
agony  of  mind.  He  literally  wrestled  with  the  materials,  and  did 
not  lay  his  pen  aside  until  March  13,  1833. 

The  "Italian"  Symphony,  produced  in  (for  Mendelssohn)  such 


long-drawn-out  travail,  shows  no  sign  of  effort.  Its  inspired  spon- 
taneity never  flags,  and  in  a  certain  sense  the  pace  never  falters. 
It  begins  with  an  allegro  and  ends  with  a  presto,  and  though  the 
middle  movements  are  in  slower  tempos,  the  information  is  subtly 
conveyed  that  the  rapid  pace  will  shortly  be  resumed.  This  sense  of 
a  pervasive  motion  germane  to  the  character  of  the  symphony  as  a 
whole  is  not  unique  with  Mendelssohn,  but  as  one  element  of  unity 
he  has  used  it  here  with  a  complete  success  that  has  often  eluded 
more  profound  musical  thinkers.  Yet  the  "Italian"  Symphony  does 
not  lack  variety:  the  first  movement  rushes  along  with  gay  and 
assertive  impetuosity;  the  andante  is  a  processional,  dignified  but 
not  solemn,  with  a  staccato  suggestion  that  the  marchers  are  im- 
patient to  get  on  to  the  lighter  business  of  the  day;  they  do  so  via 
a  lyrical  but  practical  moderato — and  go  into  their  dance.  It  is 
one  of  the  enigmas  of  musical  history  that  Mendelssohn  was  never 
satisfied  with  this  saltarello,  and  until  his  death  nursed  hopes  of 
revising  it.  Fortunately,  he  never  touched  it,  for  it  is  perfect  as  it 
stands — the  most  lighthearted  and  swift-footed  of  all  symphonic 
dances.  In  hearing  it,  one  thinks  immediately  of  that  other  great 
symphonic  dance  of  a  more  robust  people — the  gigantic  kermis 
that  closes  the  A  major  Symphony  of  Ludwig  van  Beethoven.  Men- 
delssohn's is  a  supremely  fitting  conclusion  to  an  "Italian"  sym- 

First  produced  under  the  composer's  baton  on  May  13,  1833, 
the  "Italian"  delighted  the  Londoners,  and  when  three  days  later 
he  left  to  keep  his  date  at  Dtisseldorf,  it  was  with  a  promise  to  re- 
turn immediately  the  Rhine  Festival  was  over.  Exalted  by  the 
triumph  of  a  work  of  which  he  had  entertained  the  darkest  mis- 
givings, he  carried  all  before  him  at  Diisseldorf.  It  has  been  said 
that  Mendelssohn  was  the  first  conductor  to  play  upon  the  or- 
chestra as  upon  a  single  instrument,  and  his  Rhenish  debut  was 
indeed  impressive.  The  programs  included  Beethoven's  "Pastoral" 
Symphony,  his  own  noisy  "Trumpet"  Overture,  and  a  complete 
performance  of  Israel  in  Egypt  in  its  original  form — something  of  a 
slap  at  the  Berlin  Singakademie,  which  had  lately  felt  called  upon 
to  reorchestrate  Handel.  Mendelssohn's  pleasure  over  the  warm 
recognition  of  his  talents  was  intensified  by  the  fact  that  his  father, 
who  had  begun  to  lose  his  sight,  was  able  to  be  present.  It  knew  no 
bounds  when  that  recognition  took  the  form  of  an  invitation  to 

MEN     OF    MUSIC 

become  musical  director  at  Diisseldorf  for  three  years.  Mendels- 
sohn accepted  at  once,  and  after  several  weeks  in  London  with 
his  father — a  frank  vacation  they  both  enjoyed — returned  to  the 
scene  of  his  new  activities. 

With  his  accustomed  energy,  Mendelssohn  rolled  up  his  sleeves, 
and  began  to  reorganize  Diisseldorf  music  from  top  to  bottom. 
First  came  the  church  music:  "Not  one  tolerable  solemn  mass,  and 
not  a  single  one  of  the  old  Italian  masters;  nothing  but  modern 
dross"  was  to  be  found  in  the  town,  so  he  drove  to  Elberfeld,  Bonn, 
and  Cologne,  and  within  a  few  days  was  back  with  a  carriageload 
of  Palestrina,  Di  Lasso,  Pergolesi,  and  Leonardo  Leo.  After  that, 
there  were — at  least  during  Mendelssohn's  incumbency — no  more 
"scandalous"  Masses  heard  in  Diisseldorf.  He  was  successful  in 
raising  the  standard  of  music  heard  in  the  concert  rooms,  but  at 
the  opera  house  he  struck  a  snag.  He  mounted  Don  Giovanni  and 
Le  Nozze  di  Figaro,  Cherubini's  Deux  Journees,  and  Egmont  with 
Beethoven's  incidental  music.  But  the  opera  audiences  objected  to 
the  severity  of  his  taste,  and  also  to  the  scaling-up  of  the  prices. 
There  was  a  little  revolution  in  Diisseldorf,  and  Mendelssohn  re- 
signed from  active  direction  of  the  opera  before  he  was  deposed. 
Opera  had  never  been  his  metier:  his  own  tentative  experiments 
had  been  failures,  and  like  Beethoven,  he  objected  to  the  loose 
tone  of  most  librettos.  This  new  rebuff  steeled  him  in  a  resolve  to 
turn  to  the  more  genial  atmosphere  of  the  oratorio.  The  very 
month  he  resigned  from  the  opera  he  began  working  in  this,  to 
him,  new  field,  sketching  the  outlines  of  an  ambitious  work  to  be 
known  as  St.  Paul.,  which  took  two  years  to  complete. 

In  general,  Mendelssohn's  life  at  Diisseldorf  was  extremely  happy, 
with  only  the  pettiest  of  difficulties  to  surmount:  the  greatest  crisis 
was  at  the  opera,  and  its  seemingly  disappointing  outcome  came 
actually  as  a  relief  to  him.  As  a  composer,  however,  he  was  rather 
disposed  to  rest  on  his  laurels.  When  one  is  twenty-five,  and  al- 
ready world-famous,  there  can  seem  little  reason  for  hurry.  A  bland 
but  unimportant  overture — Die  schbne  Melusine — a  Rondo  brillant  for 
piano  and  orchestra,  and  some  pleasant  songs  are  the  outstanding 
productions  of  his  Diisseldorf  years.  One  of  the  songs  is  the  luscious 
and  ever-popular  setting  of  Heine's  Auf  Flugeln  des  Gesanges,  now 
heard  more  often  in  Liszt's  piano  transcription  than  in  the  original. 
Its  treacly  effusiveness  and  the  almost  embarrassing  sentimentality 


of  its  melodic  Ene  make  one  thankful  that  Mendelssohn  did  not 
waste  much  time  on  lieder. 

Early  in  1835  there  came  to  Mendelssohn,  in  his  pleasant  pro- 
vincial backwater,  an  invitation  that  he  could  not  refuse:  Leipzig 
wanted  him  for  the  Gewandhaus  concerts.  The  negotiations  lead- 
ing to  his  acceptance  of  this  offer  show  him,  on  one  hand,  as  a 
close,  even  a  hard,  bargainer,  and  on  the  other,  as  almost  neu- 
rotically anxious  lest  he  injure  someone's  position  and  sensibilities. 
Once  the  deal  was  closed,  he  took  it  easy  until  June,  when  he  con- 
ducted the  Lower  Rhine  Festival  at  Cologne  with  great  acclama- 
tion, coming  away  with  a  fat  fee  and  a  complete  edition  of  Handel, 
presented  to  him  by  the  festival  committee.  In  August,  he  took  up 
his  new  duties  at  Leipzig,  and  explored  the  social  possibilities  of 
the  town.  Chopin  came  to  visit  him,  and  together  the  pair  found 
their  way  to  the  home  of  Friedrich  Wieck,  a  noted  music  teacher 
whose  sixteen-year-old  daughter  Clara  was  already  one  of  the  most 
famous  pianists  in  Europe.  There,  too,  they  met  a  moody  and 
silent  young  man  named  Robert  Schumann,  the  editor  of  a  radical 
musical  sheet,  and  composer  of  a  piano  suite  called  Carnaval.  At 
the  Gewandhaus  Mendelssohn  found  more  than  a  satisfactory  band, 
and  his  Leipzig  debut  as  a  conductor  passed  without  mishap.  The 
audience  was  more  than  polite  to  his  own  early  "Meeresstille"  Over- 
ture— rather  a  trifle  for  opening  so  important  a  concert — and 
shouted  its  bravos  after  each  movement  of  Beethoven's  Fourth 
Symphony.  While  there  were  varying  opinions  as  to  Mendelssohn's 
ability  as  a  conductor,  there  is  no  doubt  that  he  whipped  up  the 
Gewandhaus  orchestra  into  the  most  efficient  in  Europe.  He  was 
persevering,  earnest,  and  reverent  toward  the  intentions  of  the 
composers  he  conducted.  Furthermore,  he  was  on  friendly  terms 
with  his  men,  and  always  got  their  enthusiastic  co-operation.  The 
most  serious  charge  leveled  at  him  was  that  he  tended  to  rush 
certain  tempos.  Berlioz,  Schumann,  and  Wagner  complained  bit- 
terly of  his  treatment  of  Beethoven,  whose  works  appeared  con- 
stantly on  his  programs.  Chorley,  who  was  devoted  to  Mendelssohn, 
said  that  on  the  podium  he  was  "lively  rather  than  certain,'5  and 
there  seems  no  doubt  that  this  liveliness  contributed  largely  to  his 
tremendous  popularity  as  a  conductor. 

In  October,  shortly  after  his  debut  at  the  Gewandhaus,  Men- 
delssohn went  off  for  a  two-day  holiday  in  Berlin  with  his  Mend 

28o  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

Moscheles.  Never  had  the  Leipzigerstrasse  house  been  gayer,  de- 
spite the  fact  that  its  host  was  now  quite  blind.  It  was  the  last  time 
Mendelssohn  ever  saw  his  father,  for  little  more  than  a  month 
later,  he  received  news  that  the  old  man  had  died  in  his  sleep.  This 
was  a  heavy  blow,  for  he  had  been  deeply  attached  to  him.  It  did 
not,  however,  materially  affect  his  life.  "The  only  thing  that  now 
remains  is  to  do  one's  duty/5  he  wrote  solemnly.  "I  shall  now  work 
with  double  zeal  at  the  completion  of  St.  Paul,  for  my  father  urged 
me  to  in  the  very  last  letter  he  wrote  me." 

Mendelssohn  had  originally  contracted  to  give  Frankfort  the  first 
hearing  of  St.  Paul  in  November,  1835.  But  n*s  father's  death  had 
naturally  slowed  down  his  work  all  along  the  line,  and  the  oratorio 
was  not  finished  until  spring.  He  used  it,  instead,  to  lead  off  at  the 
Lower  Rhine  Festival  at  Diisseldorf  that  May.  The  soloists  were 
professionals,  but  most  of  the  r  72  men  in  the  orchestra  and  of  the 
chorus  of  364  voices  were  amateurs.  The  performance  was  rough: 
the  professionals,  like  an  embattled  minority,  tried  to  do  their  best, 
but  at  the  end  Mendelssohn  was  not  wholly  satisfied  with  either 
the  day's  work  or  St.  Paul  itself.  "Many  parts  caused  me  much 
pleasure,"  he  wrote,  "others  not  so;  but  I  learned  a  lesson  from  it 
all,  and  hope  to  succeed  better  the  next  time  I  write  an  oratorio." 
If  St.  Paul  did  not  please  its  own  composer,  there  seems  little  reason 
to  linger  over  this  unsatisfactory  incense  offering  to  Bach.  It  was 
tremendously  popular  throughout  the  nineteenth  century,  particu- 
larly in  England,  but  it  is  now  more  often  scornfully  talked  about 
(by  persons  who  can  never  have  heard  a  note  of  it)  than  performed. 
There  are  certain  solemn  works  so  foreign  to  modern  taste,  and 
because  of  their  length  so  boring,  so  absurdly  amusing,  or  so  in- 
furiating, that  it  is  now  impossible  to  do  them  justice.  Among 
these,  like  one  of  the  prosy  heroes  of  The  Dunciad>  St.  Paul  stands 
well  in  the  forefront.  It  was  a  fine  experience  to  hear  Schumann- 
Heink  proclaim  "But  the  Lord  is  mindful  of  His  own,"  which  is 
but  one  of  several  effective  numbers  buried  in  the  score,  but  only  a 
now  unforeseeable  revolution  in  taste  could  revive  the  oratorio  in 
its  entirety. 

After  the  festival  was  over,  Mendelssohn  went  to  Frankfort  to  do 
some  substitute  conducting.  He  was  coddled  in  the  charming  home 
atmosphere  of  the  versatile  Ferdinand  Hiller,  whose  house  was  as 
much  a  rendezvous  of  artists  as  that  of  the  Mendelssohns  in  Berlin. 


Among  those  he  met  was  Rossini,  c 'sitting  there — as  large  as  life, 
in  his  best  and  most  amiable  mood."  Now  it  was  the  charmer's 
turn  to  be  charmed.  He  wrote  to  his  mother  that  anyone  who  did 
not  think  Rossini  a  genius  had  but  to  listen  to  his  conversation.  But 
it  was  at  the  home  of  a  Mme  Jeanrenaud  tLat  Mendelssohn  was 
most  often  seen.,  and  at  first  there  were  whispers  that  he  was  court- 
ing this  attractive  young  widow.  A  troubled  Mendelssohn  then 
left  for  a  month  at  the  seashore  to  think  things  out,,  after  which, 
with  his  mind  completely  made  up,  he  returned  to  Frankfort,  and 
requested  the  hand,  not  of  Mme  Jeanrenaud,  but  of  her  seventeen- 
year-old  daughter,  Cecile  Charlotte  Sophie.  The  betrothal  was  an- 
nounced in  September,  and  six  months  later,  on  March  28,  1837, 
they  were  married  at  the  Walloon  French  Reformed  church,  of 
which  the  deceased  M.  Jeanrenaud  had  been  pastor. 

Mendelssohn's  married  life  was  one  of  idyllic  happiness,  though 
his  wife  seems  to  have  been  a  woman  of  rather  trivial  tastes.  Five 
children,  all  of  whom  outlived  their  father — one  of  the  daughters, 
indeed,  into  the  twentieth  century — literally  blessed  their  union, 
for  Mendelssohn  was  a  doting  parent  who  delighted  in  the  guileless 
ways  of  small  children.  The  Mendelssohns,  in  short,  were  an  exact 
pattern  of  everything  expected  of  the  Victorian  gentleman  and  b^s 

In  August,  Mendelssohn  had  to  tear  himself  away  from  his  wife. 
England  was  clamoring  for  him,  and  he  had  promised  to  conduct 
the  Birmingham  Festival  that  year.  While  staying  in  London,  he 
played  the  organ  several  times,  and  once  at  St.  Paul's  drew  such 
huge  crowds  that  the  verger  took  the  drastic  step  of  disconnecting 
the  beDows  in  the  middle  of  a  Bach  fugue:  it  was  the  only  way  the 
church  could  be  emptied.  Many  of  Mendelssohn's  contemporaries 
believed  that  this  slight,  elegant  man  was  the  greatest  organist  of 
the  time.  At  Birmingham,  St.  Paul  was  acclaimed  by  enthusiastic 
thousands:  Handel's  rival — in  popularity — had  appeared.  Scarcely 
less  frenzied  was  the  applause  that  greeted  Mendelssohn's  own 
playing  of  the  D  minor  Piano  Concerto  he  had  composed  especially 
for  the  occasion.  If  it  seems  inconceivable  to  us  that  any  audience 
could  go  wild  over  this  merely  perfect  and  well-mannered  music, 
it  must  be  remembered  that  it  was,  on  this  occasion,  being  played 
by  a  magician.  For  this  incredible  man  was  also  in  the  very  front 
rank  of  the  pianists  of  his  day — we  have  as  witnesses  not  merely  the 


Indiscriminate,  pious  English  press,  but  Ms  best-qualified  contem- 
poraries: Clara  Schumann,  Joachim,  Killer,  and  many  others.  Ber- 
lioz declared  that  Mendelssohn  was  even  able  to  convey  "an  ac- 
curate idea"  of  instrumental  color  by  playing  an  orchestral  score 
on  the  piano — an  amazing  tribute  from  one  who  detested  the  piano, 
and  was  himself  an  unrivaled  master  of  the  orchestral  palette. 

The  next  few  years  were  uneventfully  prosperous  for  Mendels- 
sohn. The  Gewandhaus  concerts  wrere  soon  known  throughout 
the  length  and  breadth  of  Europe,  for  not  only  was  the  orchestra 
itself  first-rate,  but  Mendelssohn  was  pronouncedly  hospitable  to 
newr  compositions  of  merit  or  striking  originality.  When  Berlioz 
visited  Leipzig,  early  in  1843,  Mendelssohn  devoted  an  extra  con- 
cert to  the  Frenchman's  music,  which  he  thoroughly  detested.  All 
the  leading  virtuosos  of  the  time  performed  under  his  baton:  Bach's 
Triple  Concerto,  for  instance,  was  heard  once  with  Hiller,  Liszt, 
and  Mendelssohn,  while  another  time  Clara  Schumann  and  Mo- 
scheles  joined  him  in  playing  it.  His  fine  taste  was  revealed  in  the 
selection  of  his  programs,  his  rare  musical  scholarship  in  the  resur- 
rection of  the  classics  of  the  past. 

Most  of  the  compositions  Mendelssohn  wrote  during  the  first  few 
years  after  his  marriage  need  detain  no  one.  Although  amply  sup- 
plied with  the  familiar  finish  and  gloss,  they  were  too  bloodless  to 
survive  into  this  century.  The  overture  to  Victor  Hugo's  Ruy  Bias 
is  very  much  an  exception.  Describing  the  play's  rodomontade  as 
"detestable  and  more  utterly  beneath  contempt  than  you  could 
believe/5  Mendelssohn  softly  acceded  to  the  solicitations  of  the 
Theatrical  Pension  Fund  of  Leipzig  that  he  provide  curtain  music 
for  their  production  of  it  in  1839.  In  three  days,  he  turned  out  in  a 
fit  of  annoyance  at  both  himself  and  the  Fund  one  of  the  most 
bang-up  overtures  of  his  career.  It  has  absolutely  no  relation  to 
Hugo's  tragic  villains  and  victims.  It  is,  in  fact,  little  short  of 
rollicking,  except  for  a  few  sinister  chords  that  seem  to  have  been 
injected  into  die  score  for  the  joke  of  the  thing.  It  has  outlasted 
many  of  Mendelssohn's  attempts  at  grander  and  more  profound 
effects.  In  1840,  the  quatercentenary  of  the  invention  of  printing 
drew  from  him  one  of  his  most  solemn  and  self-conscious  flights — 
the  vast  symphony-cantata  known  in  Germany  as  the  Lobgesang, 
to  English  festival  audiences  as  the  Hymn  of  Praise.  The  use  of  a 
battery  of  soloists,  chorus,  orchestra,  and  organ  could  not  cover  up 


the  fact  that  here  Mendelssohn  was  out  of  his  depth.  What  was 
intended  to  be  solemn  sounds  pompous;  what  was  meant  to  be 
moving  too  often  sounds  like  schoolgirl  rhetoric;  and  when  the 
forces  mass  in  a  bid  for  overwhelming  grandeur,  the  result  is  a 
cavernous  grandiloquence.  If  Mendelssohn  had  to  be  judged  solely 
on  the  merits  of  his  imitations  of  the  greatest  designs  of  Bach  and 
Handel.,  he  would  be  written  down  as  a  second-rater. 

After  a  sixth  visit  to  England,  during  which  the  Hymn  of  Praise 
was  triumphantly  presented  at  the  Birmingham  Festival,  Men- 
delssohn returned  to  Leipzig  in  full  anticipation  of  continuing  his 
happy  life  there.  It  was  not  to  be.  Within  a  few  months,  his  brother 
Paul  appeared  on  the  scene  as  an  emissary  from  Friedrich  Wilhelm 
IV,  King  of  Prussia.  Having  just  ascended  the  throne,  and  being 
desirous  of  raising  the  cultural  level  of  Berlin,  the  monarch  had 
drawn  up  plans  for  a  mammoth  academy  of  the  arts.  It  was  to  be 
divided  into  four  sections — painting,  sculpture,  architecture,  and 
music — a  commanding  figure  was  to  direct  each  division,  and 
Friedrich  Wilhelm  was  determined  to  have  Mendelssohn  among 
his  directors.  The  salary  offered  was,  even  to  a  man  of  Mendels- 
sohn's more  than  comfortable  means,  attractive.  But  he  was  highly 
dubious  about  the  great  scheme,  and  very  reluctant  to  leave  Leip- 
zig. Negotiations  dragged  along  interminably,  but  by  May,  1841, 
he  was  settled  in  Berlin,  where  he  had  promised  to  remain  for  a 
year.  He  came  on  his  own  terms,  with  no  feeling  that  the  arrange- 
ment was  final.  He  was  allowed  to  retain  the  formal  direction  of 
the  Gewandhaus,  though  for  practical  reasons  his  friend  Ferdinand 
David  was  appointed  temporary  conductor. 

Once  in  Berlin,  Mendelssohn  found  the  King  an  autocrat  whose 
mind  teemed  with  a  thousand  abortive  ideas,  and  who  wanted  him 
at  his  beck  and  call  every  minute.  Mendelssohn's  misgivings  about 
the  proposed  academy  were  justified  at  once:  it  simply  failed  to 
materialize,  and  the  composer  found  himself  metamorphosed  into 
the  King's  Kapellmeister,  a  position  he  held  concurrently  with  the 
Gewandhaus  directorate  for  the  rest  of  his  life.  Friedrich  Wil- 
helm's  grandiose  schemes  involved,  among  other  things,  the  re- 
suscitation of  great  dramas,  and  for  the  production  of  several  of 
them  Mendelssohn  was  commissioned  to  write  incidental  music. 
Of  that  to  Antigone  and  to  Oedipus  Coloneus  not  a  note  is  now  to  be 

284  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

heard,  but  that  to  Racine's  Athalie  has  fared  somewhat  better:  a 
stirring  "War  March  of  the  Priests"  is  still  played. 

The  production  of  Mendelssohn's  next  masterpiece  was  reserved 
for  his  beloved  Leipzig.  At  the  Gewandhaus,  on  March  3,  1842, 
he  conducted  a  companion  piece  to  the  "Italian"  Symphony — tlic 
"Scotch"  Symphony,  in  A  minor,  which  he  had  begun  in  Italy 
eleven  years  before.  Like  the  "Hebrides"  Overture,  it  was  a  result 
of  his  artistically  fruitful  trip  to  Scotland  in  1829.  More  varied  in 
mood,  and  technically  more  showy  than  the  earlier  of  the  two 
"national"  symphonies,  it  lacks  the  bright  spontaneity  and  effort- 
lessness of  the  "Italian."  \Vhereas  the  earlier  of  the  symphonies  had 
been  Italian  only  by  courtesy,  its  Latin  flavor  residing  mainly  in 
its  lightheartedness  and  the  use  of  a  Neapolitan  dance  rhythm  in 
the  last  movement,  the  "Scotch"  Is  clearly  programmatic.  Not 
only  are  the  harmonic  intervals  suggestive  of  those  in  Scotch  folk 
music,  but  the  melodies  themselves  are  so  reminiscent  of  Highland 
folk  tunes  that  the  chief  theme  of  the  second  movement  has  been 
described  as  an  echo  of  Charlie  Is  My  Darling.  The  symphony  opens 
with  a  broad  landscape  painting  in  Mendelssohn's  best  style:  this 
passage,  little  more  than  sixty  bars  long,  serves  to  set  the  scene, 
after  which  we  at  once  hear  a  minor  melody  as  Scotch  as  heather. 
There  is  a  sudden  thundershower — Mendelssohn's  attempt  at  real- 
Ism,  though  clever,  sounds  a  bit  amusing  nowadays — the  storm 
dies  down,  and  the  movement  closes  with  a  brief  return  to  the 
peaceful  landscape  of  the  opening.  The  second  movement  is  a 
dancing  vivace,  the  third  a  rather  unexpected  return  to  Germany* 
— a  wishy-washy  affair  withal,  with  deplorable  excursions  into 
pseudo  grandeur.  The  fourth  movement  is  quite  as  effective  as  the 
marvelous  saltarello  of  the  "Italian"  Symphony — a  wild  dance  of 
rude  Highlanders  who  stamp  furiously  into  a  smug  coda  that  closes 
the  symphony.  A  marred  masterpiece. 

In  May,  1842,  Mendelssohn,  accompanied  by  his  wife,  crossed 
over  to  England.  He  conducted  the  "Scotch"  Symphony  at  a  Phil- 
harmonic concert  to  such  wild  applause  that  the  grateful  directors 
tendered  him  a  fish  dinner  at  Greenwich.  Summoned  to  Bucking- 
ham Palace,  he  was  requested  by  Queen  Victoria  and  Prince  Albert 
to  play  a  miscellany  of  German  trifles.  Mendelssohn  was  a  man 
after  their  own  hearts,  and  soon  was  asked  back.  This  time  the 

*  Though  it  is  said  to  have  been  inspired  by  his  meditations  at  Holyrood  Castle 


Queen  graciously  granted  him  permission  to  dedicate  the  "Scotch" 
Symphony  to  her.  He  could  not  have  been  wholly  indifferent  to 
this  mark  of  royal  favor,  but  he  was  in  general  disinclined  to  put 
much  stock  in  the  condescension  of  kings. 

From  the  King  of  Saxony,  however,  Mendelssohn  obtained  some- 
thing he  really  did  want:  a  decree  founding  a  conservatory  of 
music  at  Leipzig.  Almost  simultaneously,  he  received  notice  that 
he  had  been  appointed  general  music  director  to  the  King  of 
Prussia,  and  was  on  the  point  of  leaving  for  Berlin  to  settle  all 
details  when  the  news  came  that  his  mother  had  died.  He  spent  a 
cheerless  holiday  season  at  3,  Leipzigerstrasse,  which  had  now  be- 
come his  property,  and  returned  to  Leipzig  to  immerse  himself  in 
the  details  incident  to  the  establishment  of  the  conservatory.  He 
persuaded  Schumann  to  share  the  piano  and  composition  classes 
with  him;  David  was  selected  to  teach  violin  and  orchestral  en- 
semble, while,  as  a  graceful  gesture  to  his  predecessor  at  the  Ge- 
wandhaus,  he  insisted  that  Pohlenz  (who,  however,  died  before 
the  conservatory  opened)  head  the  department  of  singing.  On 
April  3,  1843,  the  new  institution,  temporarily  located  in  the  Ge- 
wandhaus,  was  formally  inaugurated,  and  under  Mendelssohn's 
energetic  supervision  became  within  a  few  years  a  fine  music  school. 

But  Mendelssohn's  hold  on  these  scenes  of  congenial  activity  was 
becoming  all  too  tenuous.  In  August,  he  was  commanded  to  speed 
up  incidental  music  for  three  of  the  dramas  involved  in  the  King 
of  Prussia's  apotheosis  of  the  stage.  This  entailed  a  tremendous 
spending  of  energy,  for  not  only  did  Mendelssohn  have  to  complete 
a  large  amount  of  music,  but  he  had  to  arrange  and  rearrange 
plans  for  the  actual  productions  according  to  the  sequence  of  the 
King's  whims.  Finally,  after  unprecedented  stewing  and  fretting,, 
the  first  of  them — Antigone — took  place  in  September.  A  month 
later,  on  October  14,  A  Midsummer  Nighfs  Dream  was  given  at  the 
Neue  Palais,  Potsdam.  Shakespeare  was  at  once  voted  to  be  in  bad 
taste  (though  some  believed  that  he  had  merely  translated  a  Ger- 
man play  into  English),  but  the  music  enchanted  everyone,  as  it 
has  continued  to,  down  to  this  day.*  Using  the  overture  he  had 
composed  seventeen  years  before,  Mendelssohn  added  to  it  thir- 

*  Except,  of  course,  in  Nazi  Germany,  where  pure  Aryan  music  was  supplied  by 
one  Theo  Knobe!  after  Richard  Strauss  admitted  his  inability  to  improve  on 

286  MEN     OF    MUSIC 

teen  new  numbers  of  almost  uniform  effectiveness,  the  result  being 
a  pattern  of  what  incidental  music  should  be.  Several  of  the  pieces, 
wrenched  from  their  context — where  their  aptness  adds  immeas- 
urably to  their  charm — are  among  the  most  familiar  music  ever 
written.  The  triumphant,  delightfully  trashy  Wedding  March — 
for  the  Victorias  and  Alberts  of  all  eternity— has  been  played  lit- 
erally millions  of  times,  usually  as  a  pendant  to  the  more  solemnly 
mawkish  Bridal  Chorus  from  Lohengrin.  But  it  is  more  than  un- 
likely that  the  Funeral  March,  with  its  mock-tragic  strains,  will 
ever  accompany  a  single  corse  to  its  sepulture.  The  Intermezzo 
and  the  Nocturne  have  their  devotees.  Quite  as  spontaneous  and 
inspired  as  the  Overture  itself  is  the  Scherzo — an  aerial  moto  per- 
petuo  of  gossamer  texture,  the  sprightliest  of  all  possible  illustra- 
tions of  the  word  "Mendelssohnian." 

Forced  against  his  wishes  into  a  position  of  musical  dictatorship 
in  Berlin,  Mendelssohn  found  that  he  would  have  temporarily  to 
resign  the  Gewandhaus  direction  to  Hiller.  In  November,  he 
moved,  lock,  stock,  and  barrel,  to  Berlin,  and  set  up  his  household 
at  3,  Leipzigerstrasse.  A  most  unpleasant  winter  followed,  during 
which  the  composer  was  harassed  by  piddling  official  duties  that 
vexed  his  spirit  and  depleted  his  strength.  By  spring  things  had 
come  to  such  a  pass  that  he  decided  to  give  up  his  house.  The  city 
had  become  hateful  to  him.  In  May,  leaving  his  family  in  Frank- 
fort, he  went  to  London  for  an  eighth  visit,  and  conducted  the  last 
six  conceits  of  the  Philharmonic  season.  One  unfortunate  incident 
marred  this  visit:  among  the  novelties  he  intended  to  introduce 
were  Schubert's  G  major  Symphony  and  his  own  Ruy  Bias  Over- 
ture. At  rehearsals  the  orchestra  responded  so  coldly  to  the  Schu- 
bert that  he  withdrew  not  only  it,  but  also  the  overture.  In  gen- 
eral, however,  he  was  idolized.  The  Philharmonic  had  never  ended 
their  season  so  happily:  they  were  able  to  put  £400  away  in  a 
reserve  fund,  and  Mendelssohn  himself  rejoined  his  family  with 
his  pockets  bulging  with  money  he  did  not  need.  He  idled  away 
the  rest  of  the  summer  in  the  country,  and  in  September  grudg- 
ingly returned  to  Berlin,  He  was  not  well,  and  sensing  that  his 
malaise  was  due  to  the  combination  of  duties  that  bored  him  and  a 
city  he  had  come  to  detest,  he  finally  persuaded  the  King  to  re- 
lease him  from  any  except  an  honorary  tenure  of  his  official  posts. 
He  was  back  in  Frankfort  before  the  holidays,  and  there  he  re- 


mained  In  stubborn  isolation  until  September,  1845,  even  refusing 
to  budge  for  the  first  performance  of  Ms  Violin  Concerto  at  the 
Gewandhaus  on  March  13. 

The  E  minor  is  the  most  popular  of  all  violin  concertos,  and  that 
Mendelssohn,  who  had  an  innocent,  almost  childlike  love  of  ap- 
plause, was  not  at  its  highly  successful  premiere  is  ironical.  Yet  he 
himself,  five  years  before  it  was  finished — it  was  begun  in  1838 — 
had  been  assured  by  Ferdinand  David  that  it  would  stand  with 
Beethoven's  as  one  of  the  two  big  concertos  for  violin.  And,  allow- 
ing for  its  smaller  proportions,  for  its  suaver  and  more  feminine 
contours,  that  is  exactly  where  it  stands.  The  E  minor  is  as  slick  as 
a  whistle  with  a  lyric  note,  and  the  mere  expertness  of  its  fashion- 
ing is  not  the  least  part  of  its  perennial  attractiveness.  Here,  in 
truth,  is  a  work  of  "heavenly  length33:  the  themes  have  a  beautiful 
punctuality  of  statement  and  development;  there  is  not  a  moment 
of  malingering  in  the  concerto,  not  a  bar  of  padding.  No  better 
lightweight  music  has  ever  been  written:  it  is  ineffably  sweet,  ten- 
der, lyrical — and  heartless.  In  some  undefinable,  but  unmistakable, 
way  it  just  escapes  real  greatness.  It  is  a  masterpiece  of  a  musician 
of  genius  but  not  of  a  great  man. 

In  September,  1845,  tiie  Mendelssohns  returned  to  Leipzig, 
Felix  apparently  much  the  better  for  his  months  of  rest.  The  Ge- 
wandhaus concerts  began  in  October.  The  season  was  an  especially 
brilliant  one,  during  which  Jenny  Lind,  to  whom  Mendelssohn 
was  devoted,  made  her  first  Leipzig  appearance.  He  threw  himself 
with  a  new  energy  into  his  teaching  at  the  conservatory.  He  was 
worshiped  by  his  students  as  by  his  audiences,  and  stood  in  happy 
contrast  to  the  shy  and  self-absorbed  Schumann,  who  in  one  year 
had  proved  a  complete  failure  as  a  teacher.  Except  for  occasional 
bursts  of  temperament,  Mendelssohn's  way  with  his  students  was 
affable,  easygoing,  chatty,  and  thorough.  He  kept  up  a  running 
fire  of  comment,  often  of  a  witty  nature.  One  of  his  favorite  meth- 
ods of  teaching  was  to  write  a  musical  theme  on  a  blackboard,  and 
then  have  each  of  the  pupils  add  a  counterpoint  to  it.  On  one 
occasion,  when  the  last  man  up  was  unable  to  add  anything  more 
to  the  theme,  Mendelssohn  asked  sharply,  "Can't  you  tell  where 
to  put  the  next  note?'3  The  student  shook  his  head,  and  Mendels- 
sohn said  in  a  relieved  voice,  "That's  good!  Neither  can  I." 

Mendelssohn's  resumption  of  his  Leipzig  duties  was  coincident 

288  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

with  the  last  stages  of  the  largest-scale  creative  effort  of  his  career 
— the  composition  of  the  oratorio  Elijah.,  which  he  had  begun  to 
think  about  as  early  as  1837.  Now,  with  but  the  finishing  touches 
lacking,  it  was  promised  to  the  Birmingham  Festival.  Putting  on  a 
work  of  such  vast  proportions  required — ideally,  at  least — many 
rehearsals,  but  unfortunately  he  was  detained  in  Leipzig  until 
about  ten  days  before  the  premiere.  Conducting  the  Lower  Rhine 
Festival  at  Aachen,  and  a  German-Flemish  celebration  at  Cologne, 
the  arrangement  of  an  all-Spohr  program  at  the  Gewandhaus, 
with  the  vain  old  violinist  quartered  on  him  and  the  already  for- 
midable and  sharply  critical  Wagner  on  the  scene — all  this,  and 
much  more,  Mendelssohn  had  to  edge  in  before  he  could  leave  for 
his  ninth  visit  to  England.  It  was  an  unusually  hot  summer,  and 
it  was  a  very  tired  Mendelssohn  who  arrived  at  Birmingham,  only 
three  days  before  the  premiere.  Fortunately,  Moscheles  had  been 
invaluable  in  rehearsing  the  soloists.  And  in  the  scant  seventy-two 
hours  allotted  to  him,  Mendelssohn  worked  miracles.  He  had  his 
reward:  the  world  premiere  of  Elijah,  on  the  morning  of  August  26, 
1846,  was  the  crowning  success  of  his  life.  He  was  able  to  write  to 
his  brother  Paul  with  pardonable  exultation:  "During  the  whole 
two  hours  and  a  half  that  it  lasted,  the  two  thousand  people  in 
the  large  hall,  and  the  large  orchestra,  were  all  so  fully  intent  on 
the  one  object  in  question,  that  not  the  slightest  sound  was  to  be 
heard  among  the  whole  audience,  so  that  I  could  sway  at  pleasure 
the  enormous  orchestra  and  choir  and  also  the  organ  accompani- 
ments. .  .  .  No  work  of  mine  ever  went  so  admirably  the  first  time 
of  execution,  or  was  received  with  such  enthusiasm,  by  both  the 
musicians  and  the  audience,  as  this  oratorio." 

The  roar  of  acclamation  that  greeted  Elijah  that  sultry  August 
morning  almost  a  century  ago  has  been  equaled,  if  not  outdone,  a 
hundred  times  since,  particularly  in  England,  where  the  oratorio 
stands  next  to  Messiah  in  the  popular  affection  and  as  a  festival 
staple.  The  British  Empire  would  not  be  the  British  Empire  if  a 
year's  suns  went  by  without  shining  down  on  a  performance  of 
Elijah.  America  is  not  so  oratorio-loving,  and  in  recent  years,  at 
least,  the  B  minor  Mass  and  the  Matthew  Passion  have  been  per- 
formed here  more  often  than  Elijah,  which  is  unknown  to  thou- 
sands of  our  music  lovers.  Of  the  many  recordings  of  excerpts  of 
the  work,  more  than  ninety-five  per  cent  (including,  of  course,  the 


complete  recording)  are  by  British  artists.  Nor  is  it  probable  that 
more  performances  of  Elijah  would  win  many  new  friends  for  it 
here.  It  is  long  and  windy,  with  interminable  passages  of  false 
eloquence.,  highfalutin  rectitude,  and  bloody  Jehovistic  dogma. 
The  many  fine  lyric  pages  tend  to  get  lost  amid  this  turgidity. 
Elijah  lasts  two  hours  and  a  half:  during  the  first  half  it  sounds  like 
a  tolerably  good  imitation  of  Bach  and  Handel,  but  by  the  end  of 
the  second  half  it  is  likely  to  sound  like  an  intolerably  bad  imita- 
tion. Why  the  English  like  not  only  Elijah,  but  tenth-rate  imita- 
tions of  it  by  their  own  composers  as  well,  is  a  problem  that  for 
years  engaged  the  attention  of  George  Bernard  Shaw,  without  his 
being  able  to  find  an  answer  to  it.  To  own  recordings  of  "If  with 
all  your  hearts,"  the  solemn  "It  is  enough,"  and  CCO  rest  in  the 
Lord,"  one  of  the  most  moving  of  all  contralto  arias,  and  to  ab- 
stain strictly  from  complete  performances  of  the  oratorio,  is  man's 
whole  duty  toward  Elijah. 

Mendelssohn,  in  his  hour  of  greatest  triumph,  returned  exhausted 
to  Leipzig.  Niels  W.  Gade,  as  his  deputy  at  the  Gewandhaus, 
henceforth  conducted  most  of  the  concerts.  At  the  conservatory, 
Mendelssohn  resumed  his  teaching  conscientiously  but  without  his 
old  enthusiasm.  He  revised  parts  of  Elijah.,  and  began  an  opera  on 
the  Lorelei  legend  for  Jenny  Lind,  which,  however,  was  left  a 
fragment.  In  the  spring  of  1847,  he  returned  to  England  for  his 
tenth,  and  last,  visit,  Joachim  accompanying  him  in  the  role  of 
sympathetic  special  nurse.  He  was  foolhardily  wasteful  of  his 
strength,  and  within  a  fortnight  conducted  a  command  symphonic 
program  in  London  and  six  performances  of  Elijah — four  in  Lon- 
don alone.  At  Buckingham  Palace,  Victoria  and  Albert  kept  the 
ailing  man  at  the  piano  for  two  hours.  Furthermore,  he  fulfilled 
many  social  obligations,  and  was  among  those  who  heard  Lind 
win  London  at  a  single  performance  at  Her  Majesty's.  After  a  fare- 
well call  on  the  Queen,  Mendelssohn  crossed  over  to  the  Continent 
the  next  morning.  At  the  Prussian  border  he  was  mistakenly  de- 
tained as  a  Dr.  Mendelssohn  wanted  for  political  underground  ac- 
tivity, and  was  subjected  to  several  hours  of  wearisome  questioning 
before  he  was  allowed  to  proceed  to  Frankfort.  He  felt  intense 
vexation,  but  this  soon  gave  place  to  tragic  depression.  Being  told 
abruptly  that  his  sister  Fanny  had  died,  he  shrieked,  and  fell  un- 

2gO  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

conscious  to  the  floor.  He  had  raptured  a  blood  vessel  in  his  head, 
and  from  that  moment  he  was  a  dying  man, 

By  June  Mendelssohn  had  rallied  enough  to  take  a  vacation  in 
Switzerland,  where  he  did  no  composing,  but  filled  his  water-color 
sketchbooks  with  the  scenery  around  Interlaken.  Lingering  there, 
he  did  not  return  to  Leipzig  until  September.  Great  plans  filled 
his  head — a  production  of  Elijah  in  Vienna  with  Jenny  Lind,  vast 
new  compositions,  the  coming  season  of  the  Gewandhaus.  But  an 
insidious  depression  mastered  him,  and  he  was  forced  to  give  up 
his  duties  and  settle  down  where  he  had  ruled  as  king,  in  the  un- 
familiar role  of  private  citizen.  Early  in  October,  he  paid  a  call  on 
his  friend  Livia  Frege,  one  of  the  most  eminent  of  German  lieder 
singers,  to  request  her  to  sing  over  the  last  set  of  songs  he  had 
composed.  She  left  the  room  for  candles,  and  returned  to  find 
Mendelssohn  in  agony.  He  was  borne  back  to  his  own  house,  where 
leeches  were  applied.  Within  a  few  days  he  seemed  better,  and 
before  the  month  was  over  was  even  able  to  take  a  walk  with  his 
wife.  But  the  will  to  live  was  gone,  the  recovery  but  apparent.  Two 
apoplectic  strokes  left  him  unconscious,  and  on  Thursday  night, 
November  4,  1847,  he  died  in  the  presence  of  his  grief-stricken  rela- 
tives and  friends,  including  Moscheles  and  David.  He  was  not  yet 
thirty-nine  years  old. 

When  the  Wagner-Liszt  regime  came  into  power,  Mendelssohn's 
was  one  of  the  first  reputations  to  be  put  to  the  ax.  Liszt  was  at 
least  well  disposed  toward  Mendelssohn,  but  Wagner,  though  he 
never  came  to  blows  with  him  during  his  lifetime,  vilified  him  and 
his  music  unmercifully.  The  Wagnerians,  quick  to  take  a  cue  from 
their  master,  belittled  his  memory  on  every  possible  occasion — 
and  this  campaign  of  denigration  is  still  being  carried  on  by  that 
large  and  faithful  band  who  judge  music  by  its  degree  of  Wagner- 
ishness.  It  is  a  campaign  conducted  actually  without  rules,  but  with 
a  fine  show  of  reasonableness.  They  declare  that  Mendelssohn  is 
trivial,  and  prove  it — by  pointing  to  the  most  inane  and  vapid 
effusions  of  his  pen.  By  judging  him  on  the  basis  of  such  Lieder  ohm 
Worte  as  those  known  as  the  "Spring  Song"  and  "Consolation/' 
by  the  Wedding  March  from  A  Midsummer  Nigkfs  Dream,  and  by 
Auf  Flveeln  des  Gesanges,  they  do  as  grave  disservice  to  truth  as  if 


they  were  to  evaluate  Schumann  by  Traumerei,  Sibelius  by  the 
Valse  triste — or  Wagner  by  the  "Evening  Star." 

Now,  there  is  no  doubt  that  Mendelssohn  wrote  a  great  deal  of 
either  merely  adequate  or  plainly  bad  music.  His  chamber  works 
belong  mainly  to  the  former  category,  though  the  piano  trios  par- 
ticularly are  deft,  amiable.,  and  even  endearing.  Most  of  his  piano 
music  belongs  to  the  second  category,  though  there  are  notable 
exceptions:  the  scherzolike  Rondo  capricdoso;  the  E  minor  Prelude 
and  Fugue,  with  its  Bachian  dynamics;  the  ingeniously  devised  and 
hauntingly  lovely  Variations  serieuses,  and  a  very  few  of  the  Lieder 
ohm  Worte.  The  piano  did  not  often  evoke  Mendelssohn's  happiest 
inspirations,  nor  did  he  treat  it  with  the  sure  mastery  he  possessed 
over  the  orchestra.  It  seems  that  in  writing  most  of  the  Lieder  ohne 
Worte  he  was  enslaved  by  sentimental  moods  that  dulled  his  critical 
sense.  Their  indisputable  originality  as  brief  statements  of  mood  is 
apt  to  be  overlooked  nowadays,  mainly  because  as  sheer  music 
they  are  overshadowed  by  so  many  later  romantic  piano  pieces  of 
similarly  intimate  character. 

It  is  fair,  however,  to  judge  Mendelssohn  on  the  basis  of  his  best 
orchestral  works.  The  man  who  wrote  the  "Italian"  and  "Scotch" 
Symphonies,  the  Violin  Concerto,  the  overture  and  incidental 
music  to  A  Midsummer  Might's  Dream,  and  the  "Hebrides"  and 
Ruy  Bias  Overtures  need  have  no  fear  for  his  laurels.  He  was 
not,  like  Mozart  or  Schubert,  a  composer  of  the  happiest  inspira- 
tions, or  like  Beethoven,  a  musical  thinker  of  the  most  profound 
order.  Nor  did  he,  for  all  his  understanding  love  of  Bach  and 
Handel,  scale  the  heavens.  No,  Mendelssohn  was  of  a  smaller 
order  all  around,  but  with  enough  discipline  and  scope  to  escape 
being  a  petit  maitre.  A  flawless  master  of  the  technique  of  his  art,  he 
succeeded  in  pouring  the  new  wine  of  romanticism  into  the  old 
classical  bottles.  And  though  his  vintage  is  never  quite  heady 
enough,  it  sparkles,  warms  without  intoxicating,  and  exhales  a 
rare  bouquet. 

Chapter  XII 

Robert  Schumann 

(Zwickau,  June  8,  i8io-July  29,  1856,  Endenich) 

We  all  have  a  deep  regard  for  Schumann;  but  it  is  really  not  in 
human  nature  to  refrain  from  occasional!))  making  it  dear  that 
he  was  greater  as  a  musical  enthusiast  than  as  a  constructive 
musician. — George  Bernard  Shaw:  Music  in  London. 

KJBERT  SCHUMANN  is  the  central  figure  in  the  musical  romanti- 
cism of  the  nineteenth  century.  He  first  attracted  the  attention 
of  Europe  as  a  revolutionary  critic.  Long  before  he  was  able  to  get 
a  hearing  for  his  own  radical  compositions,  he  had  published  a 
rhapsodic  welcome  to  Chopin — he  called  the  article  "Hats  Off, 
Gentlemen,  a  Genius!"  Almost  a  quarter  of  a  century  later,  in  his 
last  published  utterance,  he  saluted  a  struggling  nobody  by  the 
name  of  Johannes  Brahms.  He  was  the  untiring  prophet  of  the 
romantic  ideal  in  music. 

Heredity  accounts  for  much  in  Schumann's  life;  its  pattern  was 
set  before  he  was  born.  His  father's  health  was  chronically  bad 
before  marriage,  and  became  progressively  worse  after  it.  His 
mother  was  gloomy  and  morose,  sparing  of  affection,  and  morbidly 
conventional.  His  sister  Emilie,  whom  his  first  biographer,  Von 
Wasielewski,  described  with  unconscious  humor  as  the  victim  "of 
an  uncurable  melancholy,  which  gave  unmistakable  signs  of  quiet 
madness,"  drowned  herself  at  the  age  of  twenty.  His  three  brothers 
died  young.  His  own  mental  instability  manifested  itself  as  early 
as  his  twenty-third  year. 

Schumann's  heredity  was  bad  enough;  growing  up  in  the  un- 
healthy jungles  of  German  romanticism  made  its  tragic  outcome 
inevitable.  Brought  into  the  world  during  the  Sturm  und  Drang  of 
Napoleon's  struggle  for  world  dominion — his  birthplace  was  near 
the  principal  theater  of  the  war — Schumann  grew  up  under  the 
influence  of  a  gifted  but  immoderate  father.  August  Schumann 
was  cultivated,  fervid,  and  obscure — a  publisher,  journalist,  and 
novelist,  and  a  translator  of  Byron,  In  short,  a  stock  romantic 
figure.  He  lived  in  a  kind  of  creative  rage,  and  once  confessed  that 



reading  Young's  Night  Thoughts  had  brought  him  "near  madness" 
in  his  youth,  though  this  was  obviously  literary  affectation:  his 
reason  was  not  affected. 

Schumann's  first  eighteen  years  were  passed  in  Zwickau,  where 
he  received  a  conventional  schooling  and  was  graduated  credit- 
ably from  the  Gymnasium.  He  began  to  play  the  piano  and  to 
compose  in  his  sixth  year,,  and  in  his  eleventh  was  directing  the 
school  band.  Throughout  Europe  everyone  was  earnestly  playing 
piano  duets,  and  he  was  no  exception.  With  the  local  bandmaster's 
son,  he  raced  through  arrangements  of  Beethoven's  symphonies 
and  pieces  by  Haydn,  Mozart,  Weber,  Hummel,  and  Czerny  to 
such  effect  that  August  Schumann  presented  his  twelve-year-old 
son  with  a  grand  piano.  Now  the  lad  reveled  more  than  ever  in  the 
piano  music  available  in  a  stodgy  provincial  town,  while  at  the 
home  of  the  prosperous  Garus  family  he  heard  the  best  chamber 
music.  His  father  did  not  doubt  Robert's  ability,  and  solicited  the 
powerful  but  still  accessible  Weber  to  superintend  the  boy's  musi- 
cal education.  Although  Weber  was  amiable,  for  some  reason  the 
plan  fell  through. 

August  Schumann's  death  in  1826  was  doubly  unfortunate,  for  it 
occurred  just  as  he  was  planning  to  send  Robert  to  better  teachers 
than  Zwickau  afforded,  and  it  left  the  boy  in  the  hands  of  his 
unimaginative  and  straitlaced  mother.  Under  her  chilling  in- 
fluence his  musical  ambitions  temporarily  waned.  At  this  time  he 
did  everything  carelessly,  vaguely,  without  plan:  he  wrote  fugitive 
verses,  took  long  walks,  and  read  Jean  Paul  Friedrich  Richter,  the 
most  overwrought  of  German  litterateurs.  He  acted,  that  is,  like  a 
typical  adolescent  of  this  improbable  pre-i830  period. 

It  was  this  moonstruck  dreamer  whom  Johanna  Schumann  now 
decided  to  force  into  the  legal  profession.  Accordingly,  in  March, 
1828,  he  matriculated,  studiosus  juris,  at  the  University  of  Leipzig. 
Henceforth  his  life  was  to  be  devoted  to  music. 

For,  with  scarcely  a  perfunctory  bow  to  the  study  of  law,  Schu- 
mann returned  to  his  versifying  and  piano  playing.  Professor 
Carus  had  also  removed  to  Leipzig;  at  his  home  Schumann  met, 
among  other  celebrities,  Friedrich  Wieck,  whose  knowledge  of 
music  and  musical  technique  was  boundless.  Contact  with  this  gifted 
pedagogue  revived  the  lad's  musical  ambitions.  He  formally  en- 
rolled as  Wieck's  pupil.  This  association  was,  from  the  beginning, 

294  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

not  entirely  happy.  Schumann  could  have  little  fault  to  find  with 
the  teaching  that  had  produced,  in  Wieck's  nine-year-old  daughter 
Clara,  the  most  noted  child  prodigy  in  Europe,  and  there  is  no 
doubt  that  he  struggled  to  master  the  difficulties  of  pianism.  But  he 
infuriated  his  farsighted  teacher  by  neglecting  theory.  Also,  he 
practiced  when  he  wished,  therefore  unsystematically,  and,  as  a 
substitute  for  more  formal  studies,  read  the  scores  of  the  best  music 
of  all  periods.  He  also  took  part  in  chamber  ensembles,  and  began 
to  study  the  music  of  Schubert,  at  the  news  of  whose  death,  on 
November  19,  1828,  he  burst  into  tears. 

The  favorite  reading  of  this  despiser  of  theory  was  The  Well- 
Tempered  Clavichord.  He  admired  Bach  intensely,  and  was  among 
the  first  to  recognize  the  "mysterious  depth  of  sentiment"  behind 
the  contrapuntal  miracles.  But  unfortunately,  Bach  and  Jean  Paul 
happened  to  have  been  born  on  March  21,  and  the  coincidence 
was  to  place  Schumann  in  an  absurd  position.  On  that  day,  in  1 850, 
in  a  public  speech,  he  invoked  them  together  as  "the  immortal 
rulers  of  music  and  poetry."  When  someone  objected  to  this 
grotesque  bracketing,  he  left  the  hall  in  a  rage. 

Wieck  suddenly  dismissed  Schumann,  ostensibly  because  he  had 
no  time  for  teaching,  but  more  probably  because  the  boy*s  sporadic 
enthusiasms  irritated  him.  Schumann  decided  to  leave  Leipzig  for 
Heidelberg.  In  that  most  romantic  of  Rhenish  towns,  his  life  was 
easy  and  attractive,  but  he  soon  missed  Wieck's  instruction,  and 
began  a  three-cornered  negotiation  with  his  mother  and  his 
teacher,  begging  to  be  allowed  to  return  to  Wieck.  Although  he 
had  glimpsed  some  of  the  "majesty  of  jurisprudence"  at  Heidel- 
berg, he  longed  for  music  as  some  men  long  for  a  mistress,  and  now 
decided  to  abandon  the  law  forever.  Fortunately,  Wieck  had  faith 
in  his  potentialities  as  a  pianist,  and  eventually  told  the  skeptical 
mother  that  in  three  years  he  would  make  her  son  a  great  virtuoso, 
the  peer  of  Moscheles  and  Hummel.  Johanna  Schumann  con- 

Schumann  interrupted  his  stay  in  Heidelberg  with  a  trip  to 
Italy  in  the  autumn  of  1829.  He  spoke  enthusiastically  of  Pasta,  the 
soprano  for  whom  Bellini  wrote  Jiorma  and  La  Sonnambula^  but  this 
was  almost  his  only  reference  to  the  artistic  opulence  of  the  South, 
though  his  letters  palpitate  with  the  business  of  passing  sentimental 
attachments.  He  did  not  return  empty-handed  to  Leipzig,  for  in 


Heidelberg  he  had  composed  parts  of  the  Papillons,  still,  unde- 
servedly, among  the  most  popular  of  his  compositions.  The 
quality  of  these  rather  banal  pieces  recalls  some  of  Schubert's 
waltzes,  though  they  are  much  less  graceful.  Their  basic  unity, 
despite  much  that  has  been  said  and  written  about  it,  may  still  be 
considered  the  composer's  secret;  relating  them  to  a  masked  ball  in 
Jean  Paul's  Flegeljahre>  as  Schumann  did,  is  now  a  task  for  the 
musical  archeologist.  Nor  was  he  successful  in  his  last-minute  at- 
tempt to  unify  the  Papillons  by  ending  it  with  two  of  the  pieces 
combined  contrapuntally. 

Back  in  Leipzig,  Schumann  took  up  his  residence  in  the  house 
where  Wieck  lodged.  The  prospect  of  becoming  as  brilliant  as 
Moscheles,  whose  playing  had  dazzled  him  as  a  small  boy, 
spurred  him  on  to  fantastic  efforts.  He  even  invented  a  device  for 
keeping  the  fourth  finger  of  his  right  hand  inactive  while  he  prac- 
ticed, evidently  hoping  that  this  curious  procedure  would  over- 
come the  laws  of  nature,  and  make  the  fourth  finger  as  strong  as 
the  others.  To  his  horror,  the  favored  finger  tended  to  retain  this 
artificial  position  when  free.  Despite  the  most  elaborate  and  ex- 
pensive treatment,  the  disability  persisted,  and  he  was  forced  to 
renounce  the  alluring  career  of  a  concert  artist. 

Schumann  turned  to  composition  and  theory  as  a  solace,  finding 
in  Heinrich  Dorn — later  famous  for  his  supposed  antagonism  to 
Wagner — a  welcome  successor  to  the  sometimes  irascible  Wieck. 
Late  in  1832,  he  conducted  part  of  a  G  minor  symphony  at 
Zwickau.  His  townspeople  received  the  fragment  coldly,  though 
Schumann  said  that  the  same  piece  won  him  "many  friends  among 
the  greatest  musical  connoisseurs'5  when  repeated  at  Leipzig  the 
following  June.  He  was  not  discouraged  by  the  public's  reaction, 
and  worked  unceasingly  at  various  compositions,  especially  the 
Studien  nach  Caprwen  von  Paganini,  which  he  erroneously  believed  to 
prove  his  command  of  theory.  In  the  midst  of  this  activity,  he  lost 
his  sister-in-law  Rosalie,  whom  he  loved  deeply,  and  this  shock 
precipitated  the  first  overt  symptoms  of  his  mental  instability.  It  is 
even  said  that  during  the  night  of  October  17,  1833,  the  distracted 
man  tried  to  throw  himself  from  the  fourth  floor  of  his  lodgings. 
We  know  for  a  certainty  that  from  this  time  on  he  always  insisted 
on  ground-floor  rooms. 

Then  suddenly,  abruptly,  everything  was  changed.  Schumann 

296  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

began  to  become  conscious  of  another  side  of  his  own  romantic 
nature.  He  fell  in  love — not  once,  but  twice.  Clara  Wieck  was 
growing  up,  and  noticing  this,  he  began,  almost  insensibly,  to  feel 
toward  her  something  more  than  the  easy  affection  of  an  elder 
brother.  Of  course,  she  was  only  fifteen,  and  yet,  when  she  left 
Leipzig  to  study,  he  felt  lost.  The  habit  of  love  was  upon  him,  and 
he  could  not  shake  it  off.  Among  Wieck's  pupils  was  Ernestine  von 
Fricken,  "physically  luxuriant,  emotionally  strongly  developed, 
and  intellectually  insignificant."  A  girl  with  these  qualifications 
might  well  appeal  to  any  man,  but  Schumann  had  to  romanticize 
her  into  a  sort  of  Madonna  with  a  milk-white  soul.  He  even 
thought  for  a  time  of  marrying  her. 

But  this  hectic  interlude  was  a  substitution  gesture.  Clara's 
image  persisted,  and  Schumann  learned  that  Ernestine  had  de- 
ceived him  about  her  social  status.  She  was  not  the  rich  daughter 
of  Baron  von  Fricken,  but  his  bastard,  and  poor.  The  double  draw- 
back was  too  much.  Instead  of  his  daughter,  Schumann  took  from 
the  baron  a  theme  in  C  sharp  minor,  on  which  he  wrote  his  varia- 
tions known  as  the  Etudes  symphoniques. 

Artistically,  too,  1834  was  one  of  great  activity  for  Schumann: 
he  composed  the  Etudes  symphoniques  and  began  the  CarnavaL  With 
a  group  of  friends,  he  founded  the  New  ^eitschrift  fur  Musik,  and 
overnight  became  the  most  advanced  music  critic  in  Europe. 

Twenty  years  later,  when  the  night  of  madness  was  closing  in 
on  Schumann,  his  last  accomplished  work  was  the  preface  to  a 
selection  from  his  critical  writings,  many  of  which  had  appeared  in 
the  ZjAtschrift.  In  this  salute  to  the  past,  the  tiring  mind  was  mo- 
mentarily refreshed,  and  less  than  two  months  before  the  doors 
of  a  madhouse  shut  behind  him,  he  re-created  with  unsullied 
freshness  the  ardent  youth  of  the  idealistic  thirties. 

"At  the  close  of  the  year  1833,"  he  wrote,  "a  number  of  musi- 
cians, mostly  young  men,  went  together  every  evening  in  Leipzig, 
apparently  by  mere  chance  and  for  social  intercourse,  but  no  less 
for  an  exchange  of  ideas  in  regard  to  the  art  which  was  their  meat 
and  drink — music.  It  cannot  be  said  that  the  musical  condition  of 
Germany  at  that  time  was  very  satisfactory.  On  the  stage  Rossini 
still  flourished,  while  Herz  and  Hiinten  held  almost  exclusive 
sway  on  the  piano.  And  yet  but  a  few  years  had  passed  since  Bee- 
thoven, Carl  Maria  von  Weber,  and  Franz  Schubert  were  in  our 


midst.  Mendelssohn's  star  was  indeed  in  the  ascendant,  and  won- 
derful things  were  rumored  of  a  Pole  named  Chopin,  but  the 
latter  excited  no  lasting  influence  till  later.  One  day  the  thought 
flashed  upon  the  young  hotheads:  let  us  not  stand  idly  by;  let  us 
set  to  work,  and  strive  to  improve  matters,  so  that  the  poetry  of 
Art  may  once  more  be  held  in  honor.  Thus  arose  the  first  pages  of 
a  new  journal." 

The  %eitschrift  confirmed  the  growing  fame  of  Schubert  and  Men- 
delssohn, helped  to  found  that  of  Chopin  and  Robert  Franz,  and 
introduced  the  names  of  Berlioz  and  Brahms.  Its  contributors  in- 
cluded, besides  Schumann  himself,  Wieck,  Wagner,  Dorn,  and 
many  others  whose  names  were  hidden  under  the  fantastic  noms  de 
guerre  Schumann  invented  for  them.  The  publication  of  the  %dt- 
schrift,  important  though  it  was,  constituted  in  Schumann's  eyes 
only  one  of  the  activities  of  the  Davidsbundler,  "an  association,"  he 
said,  "existing  only  in  the  imagination,  whose  members  are  recog- 
nizable less  by  outward  signs  than  by  inward  resemblance.  It  will 
be  their  endeavor,  by  word  and  by  deed,  to  dam  up  the  tide  of 

The  Carnaval,  completed  in  1835,  was  the  most  comprehensive 
musical  expression  of  the  Davidsbundler.  It  is  based  on  four  notes: 
A,  S  (E  flat  in  German  notation),  C,  and  H  (B  natural).  These 
notes  had  a  double  significance  for  the  composer:  they  represent 
the  only  musical  letters  in  SCHumAnn,  and  ASCH,  the  Bohemian 
home  of  Ernestine  von  Fricken.  In  sending  a  copy  of  the  Garnaml 
to  Moscheles  after  its  publication  in  1837,  Schumann  wrote,  "To 
figure  out  the  Masked  Ball  will  be  child's  play  to  you;  and  I  need 
hardly  assure  you  that  the  putting  together  of  the  pieces  and  the 
superscriptions  came  about  after  the  composition." 

Apart  from  its  alleged  literary  program,  the  Carnaval  has  no 
unity,  and  we  may  interpret  the  letter  to  Moscheles  as  a  kind  of 
elaborate  fake  invented  by  Schumann  to  quiet  his  own  artistic  con- 
science. Like  the  Papittons,  the  Carncwal  suffers  from  a  lack  of  or- 
ganic integration.  Contemporary  opinion  divided  sharply  over  its 
merits:  Liszt  proclaimed  it  one  of  the  greatest  works  he  knew; 
Chopin  declared  that  it  was  not  music.  It  is  the  most  popular  of 
Schumann's  piano  compositions  despite  its  flaws.  When  all  deduc- 
tions have  been  made,  the  rewards  to  the  listener  are  incalculably 
rich.  The  pieces  are  tone  portraits  and  moods  limned  by  a  sym- 

208  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

pathetic  and  generous  musical  intelligence.  They  range  from  the 
tender  sentiment  of  Eusebius  through  the  frenzied  enthusiasm  of 
Paganini  to  the  booming  heroics  of  the  Marche  des  Dauidsbundler,  and 
include  such  high  pastiche  as  Chopin,  and  a  waltz — Lettres  dansantes 
— worthy  to  be  placed  with  the  finest  of  Schubert  and  Chopin.  The 
Schumannesque  quality  persists  throughout — a  note  of  personal 
idiosyncrasy  colors  the  Carnaval  from  the  Preambule  to  the  Marche, 
all  exuberant,  warm,  and  boldly  rhythmic. 

The  Etudes  symphomques  are  altogether  less  successful.,  and  Schu- 
mann himself  was  rightly  skeptical  of  their  appeal  to  the  public. 
Audiences  received  them  coldly,  and  they  had  to  wait  for  Anton 
Rubinstein,  fifty  years  after  their  composition,  to  establish  them. 
These  frequently  overrobust  pieces  are  dedicated  to  the  pallid  Wil- 
liam Sterndale  Bennett,  the  Caspar  Milquetoast  of  English  music, 
and  one  of  Schumann's  mistaken  enthusiasms.  The  most  successful 
part  of  the  Etudes  symphoniques  is  the  grandiosely  conceived  finale, 
for  which  Schumann  wisely  added  to  Von  Fricken's  theme  one 
from  an  opera  by  the  popular  romantic  Heinrich  Marschner.  Al- 
though this  suffers  as  much  as  the  other  parts  from  "too,  too  solid 
blocks  of  chords,"  it  is,  in  effect,  an  amazingly  sustained  flight. 

In  1835  the  musical  life  of  Leipzig  was  quickened  by  the  arrival 
of  Mendelssohn  to  become  director  of  the  Gewandhaus  concerts. 
All  succumbed  to  his  genius  and  charm,  but  the  heart  of  Schu- 
mann went  out  to  him  ever  more  unreservedly.  A  friendship  sprang 
up  between  them  that  endured,  with  minor  frictions,  until  Men- 
delssohn's death.  While  Schumann  considered  Mendelssohn  god- 
like both  as  man  and  artist,  his  hero  was  more  reserved:  he  judged 
Schumann  a  musical  dilettante,  and,  worse,  one  who  wrote  about 
music.  He  nevertheless  performed  many  of  Schumann's  orchestral 
works  brilliantly,  and  so  did  Mm  an  invaluable  service. 
^Schumann's  love  for  Clara  Wieck  was  growing  constantly  (as 
was  hers  for  him),  and  about  the  beginning  of  1836  he  determined 
to  marry  her.  Four  years  earlier,  Johanna  Schumann  had  been 
won  by  the  girl's  charming  manner,  and  had  said,  "Some  day  you 
must  marry  Robert/'  but  at  that  time  neither  Robert  nor  Clara 
had  taken  his  mother's  words  seriously.  His  final  break  with  Er- 
nestine von  Fricken  occurred  in  January,  1836,  and  his  mother's 
death  the  following  month  may  have  recalled  her  prophetic  words. 
In  any  event,  these  happenings  made  his  need  for  companionship 


peremptory.  When  Wieck  saw  that  Clara  reciprocated  Schumann's 
love,  he  reacted  violently,  spitefully  adducing  Schumann's  poverty 
and  intemperance  (he  had  spent  too  much  money  on  beer  and 
champagne),  though,  oddly  enough,  ignoring  what  would  have 
been  a  reasonable  objection — his  mental  instability.  Behind  Wieck's 
attitude  looms  his  real  fear  that  Clara,  whom  he  regarded  as  his 
creation  and  chattel,  would  be  diverted  from  her  career.  He  shud- 
dered to  think  of  her  "with  the  perambulator." 

At  first^  Wieck's  opposition  was  not  wholly  unjust,  but  in  time 
Schumann's  conduct  and  prospects  improved  so  as  to  make  the 
ostensible  objections  absurd.  Although  Clara  had  been  packed  off 
to  Dresden  to  make  her  forget  Schumann,  that  miracle  did  not 
happen.  The  lovers  met  during  one  of  Wieck's  absences,  and  Wieck, 
hearing  of  this,  forbade  Schumann  all  access  to  his  house.  Further, 
he  told  Clara  that  he  would  shoot  her  suitor  if  he  persisted.  There 
actually  followed  an  eighteen-month  interval  during  which  the 
lovers  were  both  in  Leipzig,  yet  completely  cut  off  from  each  other. 
Clara  had  to  hold  her  faith  in  Schumann  against  the  mendacity 
and  malice  of  both  her  father  and  her  stepmother,  and  the  intoler- 
able situation  was  further  complicated  by  the  ambiguous  friend- 
ship of  Carl  Banck,  once  one  of  the  Davidsbundler.  He  seems  to  have 
misrepresented  Clara  to  Schumann,  and  to  have  described  her  as 
a  frivolous  girl  with  no  capacity  for  true  love. 

On  August  13,  1837,  Clara  gave  a  concert  at  Leipzig,  and  on  the 
program  was  an  F  minor  sonata  that  Schumann  had  dedicated  to 
her  the  year  before.  He  described  it  as  his  heart's  cry  for  her,  and 
Clara  caught  the  message,  for  she  wrote,  "Did  you  not  think  that  I 
played  it  because  I  knew  no  other  way  of  showing  something  of 
my  inmost  heart9  I  could  not  do  it  in  secret,  so  I  did  it  in  public." 
The  lovers  managed  to  communicate  with  each  other,  and  on  the 
following  day  became  formally  betrothed.  They  agreed  that  on 
Clara's  eighteenth  birthday  Schumann  should  again  write  to  her 
father.  The  letter,  with  its  dignified  statement  of  the  composer's 
position  and  prospects,  evoked  an  unsatisfactory  reply,  and  Schu- 
mann's interview  with  Wieck  some  days  later  was  violent  in  tone 
and  discouraging  in  outlook.  Schumann  and  Clara  decided  to  re- 
sort to  law  if,  at  the  end  of  two  years  more,  her  father  still  withheld 
his  consent. 

Wieck's  next  move  was  to  take  Clara  on  a  highly  successful  con- 

30O  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

cert  tour  to  Prague  and  Vienna,  which  kept  her  away  until  the 
following  May.  She  met  her  great  rivals,  Liszt  and  Thalberg,  in 
Vienna,  and  was  feted  in  a  manner  that  might  have  turned  a  less 
level  head.  But  not  Clara's — even  though  Liszt,  in  his  eagerness  to 
meet  her,  threw  his  calling  card  in  at  the  window.  Her  letters  to 
Schumann  continued,  and  though  both  these  and  his  answers  re- 
flected passing  doubts,  their  love  endured,  and  on  her  return  to 
Leipzig  they  were  able  to  meet  with  considerable  freedom  despite 
Wieck's  obduracy.  They  decided  to  marry  in  1840,  come  what 

One  thing  was  certain:  Clara  would  come  to  Schumann  without 
a  dowry.  This  situation,  then  very  unusual,  was  so  heightened  by 
Wieck's  contempt  for  Schumann  as  a  man  of  affairs  (only  a  go- 
getter  like  himself  would  have  pleased  him)  that  the  composer  con- 
cluded that  he  himself  must  provide  a  dowry.  His  modest  income 
suited  a  bachelor  who  knew  where  to  borrow  money,  but  not  the 
husband  of  Clara  Wieck.  His  only  asset  with  possibilities  of  rapid 
increase  was  the  Zjeitschrift,  but  he  felt  that  its  location  in  Leipzig 
was  against  it.  He  had  always  wanted  to  visit  Vienna,  which  he 
believed  to  be  a  city  of  music  lovers,  and  the  idea  of  moving  the 
Zjdtschrift  there  gave  him  a  good  excuse. 

And  when  he  saw  Vienna  in  the  autumn  of  1838,  he  was  in- 
clined to  like  it.  His  spirits  soared  when  he  found  a  pen  on  Beetho- 
ven's grave  and  received  the  great  C  major  Symphony  from  the 
hands  of  Schubert's  brother.  He  met  Liszt  and  Thalberg,  and  saw 
Taglioni  dance,  but  soon  realized  that  Vienna,  under  crazy  Fer- 
dinand I,  was  not  the  place  for  the  ^eitschnft.  Far  from  worship- 
ing at  the  shrines  of  Mozart,  Beethoven,  and  Schubert,  the  Vien- 
nese were  concerned  with  the  politics  of  petty  cliques.  The  strict 
censorship  would  have  made  the  liberal  ^eitschrift  unwelcome  there, 
wHle  the  lack  of  a  central  musical  authority  like  Mendelssohn's  at 
Leipzig  seemed  to  Schumann  an  even  more  serious  drawback. 

Early  in  1839,  news  of  Ms  brother  Eduard's  serious  illness  re- 
called Schumann  to  Leipzig.  While  he  was  en  route,  according  to 
a  letter  he  wrote  Clara,  CCI  heard  a  whole  choral  of  trumpets — he 
died  just  at  that  time.  .  .  ."  Clara,  of  course,  could  not  see  (as  we 
can)  that  this  "choral  of  trumpets"  was  the  first  of  the  auditory 
hallucinations  that  were  to  attend  the  disintegration  of  Schumann's 


Clara  was  not  in  Leipzig  to  comfort  him,  for  in  January  she  had 
set  out  for  Paris.  Wieck,  for  the  first  time,  did  not  accompany  her: 
he  wanted  her  to  realize  the  discomforts  involved  in  securing  con- 
certs without  his  help.  If  he  expected,  in  this  tortuous  way,  to 
prove  his  indispensability,  he  had  misjudged  his  daughter.  Vexa- 
tion there  was,  but  more  for  him  than  for  Clara;  the  French  tour 
was  a  measured  success.  She  met  Heine,  dined  with  Meyerbeer, 
and  founded  many  lasting  friendships.  Yet  she  was  far  from  happy, 
for  her  father's  letters  were  persecutional,  her  lover's  often  re- 
proachful and  doubting.  Back  in  Leipzig,  she  united  with  Schu- 
mann in  one  more  friendly  attempt  to  gain  Wieck's  consent  to 
their  marriage — she  was  still  not  yet  of  age.  They  finally  had  to  go 
to  law.  Wieck  barred  his  doors  to  his  famous  daughter,  and  went 
so  far  as  to  endanger  her  career  and  Schumann's  by  slander.  The 
case  dragged  on  until  his  objections  were  reduced  to  one — intem- 
perance— and  that  had  to  be  proved  within  six  weeks.  Schumann 
was  vindicated,  Mendelssohn,  among  others,  being  ready  to  testify 
for  him.  Almost  simultaneously,  the  University  of  Jena  gave  him 
an  honorary  doctorate.  Wieck  then  withdrew  his  formal  opposi- 

Robert  Schumann  and  Clara  Wieck  were  married  on  Septem- 
ber 12,  1840. 

"Truly,  from  the  contests  Clara  cost  me,  much  music  has  been 
caused  and  conceived,"  Schumann  wrote  to  Dorn.  And  even 
though  it  seems  likely  that  these  "contests"  hastened  the  progress 
of  Schumann's  mental  trouble,  the  fact  remains  that  the  stormy 
years  of  the  courtship  did  bring  forth  his  most  ambitious  contribu- 
tions to  piano  literature,  including  Die  Davidsbundlertanze,  the  Fan- 
tasiestucke,  the  Kinderscenen,  the  Krdsleriana,  and  the  C  major  Fanta- 
sie.  Of  his  best  works  for  piano  alone,  only  one — the  Album  fur  die 
Jugend — was  composed  after  his  marriage,  and  that  because  he  had 
become  a  family  man,  and  wrote  these  pieces  for  his  own  children. 

Despite  the  popularity  of  the  Papillons  and  the  Carnaval,  the  es- 
sence of  Schumann  as  a  composer  for  the  piano  is  in  the  best  pages 
of  the  Fantasiestucke  and  the  Kreisleriana.  With  what  James  Huneker 
preached  as  "the  greater  Chopin,"  they  are  romantic  piano  music 
at  its  finest — until  the  advent  of  Brahms.  Chopin  has  intense  Slavic 
passion,  Gallic  edge,  poignant — if  sometimes  saccharine — lyricism; 
Schumann  is  drenched  with  Teutonic  qualities:  broad  sentiment, 

3O2  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

Evdy  humor,  domestic  charm.  He  translates  the  "poetry  of  every- 
day life"  into  music.  To  the  transparent  sweetness  and  naivete  of 
Schubert  he  adds  an  intense  psychological  preoccupation. 

Few  people  nowadays  care  to  listen  to  the  Fantasiestucke  or  the 
Kind&rscenen  in  their  entirety.  Schumann  himself  thought  them  too 
long  for  public  performance,  and  often  spoke  of  individual  pieces 
as  complete  in  themselves.  Furthermore,  he  favored  some  against 
others,  Even  the  most  prejudiced  classicist  or  modernist  must  sur- 
render to  the  passionate  sweep  of  In  der  Nacht  or  the  warm  humor 
of  Grillen:  in  these,  as  in  other  short  pieces  and  in  sections  of  the 
Krdsleriam,  Schumann  speaks  to  us  most  intimately  and  persua- 
sively. In  the  faded  pages  of  the  Kinderscenen,  the  intimate  note 
persists,  but  the  unrelieved  Gemuthlichkdt  is  unbearable,  rising  to 
irritating  pitch  in  the  hackneyed  Trdumerei.  The  trouble  with  the 
Traumerei  is  not  that  it  is  hackneyed  (so  are  Beethoven's  Fifth  and 
"HandeFs  Largo"),  but  that  it  is  spineless  and  cloying. 

Schumann  intended  the  C  major  Fantasie  as  his  contribution 
toward  the  raising  of  funds  for  a  Beethoven  memorial,  which  may 
explain  its  unusually  large  proportions.  It  contains  many  fine  pages, 
but  lacks  architecture.  It  is  full  of  typically  Schumannesque  epi- 
grams, delightful  in  themselves,  but  out  of  place  in  so  extended  a 
composition.  But  Schumann's  lasting  fame  as  a  composer  depends 
neither  on  the  Fantasie  nor  on  the  sonatas,  which  are  resurrected 
rarely — and  even  then  too  often. 

Just  as  his  courtship  of  Clara  evoked  Schumann's  finest  piano 
works,  so,  in  the  year  of  his  marriage,  it  brought  forth  almost  all 
his  great  songs.  It  was  as  though  he  suddenly  needed  a  more  per- 
sonal idiom  than  the  piano,  and  so  went  to  the  poetry  of  Heine, 
Von  Chamisso,  and  other  poets  and  poetasters  for  the  sentiments 
germane  to  his  love.  Among  these  verses  he  found  much  drivel, 
some  of  which  he  set  as  fastidiously  as  the  real  poetry.  However, 
the  emotional  range  of  these  magnificent  song  sequences  makes 
them  a  glorious  epithalamium  for  Clara. 

In  Schumann's  hands,  the  accompaniment  of  the  lied  achieves 
equal — sometimes  more  than  equal— status  with  the  voice,  and  the 
meaning  of  the  lyric  dictates  the  entire  shaping  of  the  music.  But 
lie  often  approached  the  lied  too  pianistically,  treating  the  human 
voice  as  though  it  possessed  the  flexibility  and  range  of  a  keyboard. 
For  this  reason,  some  of  his  songs  are  best  sung  by  a  phenomenal 


mezzo-soprano  or  baritone.  The  accompaniments  are  always  rich 
and  varied,  frequently  of  great  harmonic  interest.  The  excellent 
English  musicologist,  Francis  Toye,  has  even  said  that  "a  little  gem 
like  the  piano-epilogue  to  the  Dickterliebe,  so  satisfying,  so  exactly 
right,  remains,  perhaps,  the  most  striking  attribute  of  Schumann's 
as  a  song-writer!" 

The  songs  range  from  a  great  dramatic  narrative  like  Die  beiden 
Grenadiere  to  Erstes  Grun,  a  trifle  packed  with  almost  insupportable 
poignancy,  and  include  such  radiations  of  pure  genius  as  Der  Nuss- 
baum,  Ich  grolle  nicht,  Die  Lotusblume,  Widmung,  and  others  less  fa- 
miliar but  no  less  masterly.  In  his  greatest  lieder,  Schumann 
achieved  a  melodic  line  which,  if  not  so  spontaneous  as  Schubert's, 
has  a  deeper  and  more  intellectual  configuration.  In  them,  as  in 
the  Carnaval  and  the  Fantasiestucke,  the  psychological  closeness  is 
startling.  Not  only  does  the  music  match  the  words  with  exquisite 
sensitivity,  but  it  has  profound  overtones  not  to  be  echoed  until 
the  days  of  Hugo  Wolf  and  Richard  Strauss. 

Schumann's  life  as  a  composer  was  divided  into  periods  by  abrupt 
changes  of  interest.  He  had  abandoned  the  piano  for  the  lied;  now 
he  began  to  write  for  orchestra.  As  early  as  1839  he  had  written 
to  Dorn:  "I  often  feel  tempted  to  crush  my  piano;  it's  too  narrow 
for  my  thoughts.  I  really  have  very  little  practice  in  orchestral 
music  now;  still  I  hope  to  master  it."  In  his  past  was  the  fragment 
of  a  G  minor  symphony  that  had  met  with  such  meager  success 
that  he  never  completed  it.  During  the  nine  years  between  its  per- 
formance and  the  writing  of  the  B  flat  major  ("Spring")  Sym- 
phony in  1841,  he  had  probably  yearned  more  than  once  to  com- 
pose in  this  larger  form.  The  "Spring"  Symphony  not  unnaturally 
exhibits  traces  of  a  fine  frenzy  (at  least  for  two  movements,  after 
which  it  collapses).  It  was  outlined  at  the  piano  in  four  days,  the 
orchestration  followed  at  once,  and  it  was  performed  less  than 
two  months  later  at  a  Gewandhaus  concert,  with  Mendelssohn 
conducting.  The  parts  baffled  the  musicians,  who  were  hostile  to 
the  work — and  not  without  reason,  for  Schumann  often  wrote  awk- 
wardly for  instruments  other  than  the  piano. 

Nevertheless,  this  ambitious  flight  established  Schumann  as  a 
"serious5'  composer.  Mendelssohn  had  lavished  great  care  on  the 
performance,  and  Schumann  could  write  with  pardonable  exag- 
geration that  it  had  been  "received  as  no  other  since  Beethoven." 

304  MEN  OF  MUSIG 

Its  respectable  success  spurred  him  on,  and  shortly  afterward  he 
composed  the  D  minor  Symphony.  This  prematurely  Tchaikov- 
skyan  work  failed  to  catch  the  public,  and  was  completely  revised 
ten  years  later.  Wagner  heard  Liszt  and  an  accomplice  play  a  four- 
hand  arrangement  of  this  revision,  and  pronounced  it  banal — to 
the  distress  of  Liszt,  who  was  trying  to  promote  cordial  relations 
between  Wagner  and  Schumann. 

Musicographers  have  justifiably  called  1842  Schumann's  cham- 
ber-music year,  for  the  best  of  his  chamber  works  belong  to  it.  The 
Piano  Quintet,  one  of  the  happiest  of  his  inspirations,  was  greeted 
effusively  by  Mendelssohn,  usually  positively  stingy  with  praise.  It 
is,  indeed,  the  most  sustainedly  great  chamber  writing  between 
Beethoven  and  Brahms,  and  remains  a  favorite  with  audiences. 
Lush  in  harmony  and  richly  varied  in  theme,  this  romantic  mas- 
terpiece has  a  remarkable  immediacy  of  appeal.  Here,  as  in  only 
one  other  extended  composition,  Schumann's  touch  is  mysteri- 
ously sure:  he  had  found  the  form  his  material  demanded.  The 
string  quartets  were  much  less  successful,  and  only  the  Piano  Quar- 
tet shows  something  of  the  genius  that  shaped  the  Quintet. 

It  is  little  wonder  that  this  debauch  of  composition  in  new  forms 
brought  on  what  Schumann  called  "nerve  exhaustion":  in  three 
years  he  had  composed  thirty  of  the  148  works  published  with  opus 
numbers.  His  appointment,  the  following  year,  to  teach  piano  and 
composition  at  the  newly  founded  Leipzig  conservatory  brought 
distraction  from  his  labors,  as  well  as  needed  source  of  income. 
(His  family  was  growing;  the  second  of  his  eight  children  was  born 
in  1843.)  Mendelssohn  had  been  named  head  of  the  conservatory, 
and  Schumann  looked  forward  eagerly  to  his  work  there.  But  he 
was  an  impossible  teacher — shy,  taciturn,  and  erratic;  his  failure 
to  create  a  rapport  with  his  students  sprang  from  the  same  cause  as 
Ms  failure  as  a  conductor:  his  obliviousness  to  everything  except 
what  was  going  on  in  his  own  head.  He  remained  on  the  staff  little 
more  than  a  year,  and  then  suffered  a  complete  nervous  break- 

Schumann's  teaching  was  interrupted  when  he  went  with  Clara 
on  a  tour  through  Russia,  and  by  the  composition  of  Die  Paradies 
und  die  Peri,  an  intolerably  dull  and  sugary  business  for  chorus  and 
orchestra  based  on  the  second  part  of  Thomas  Moore's  fake-Ori- 
ental epic,  Lalla  Rookh — according  to  Schumann  "one  of  the  sweet- 


est  flowers  of  English  verse."  This  work  had  some  scant  success  in 
Germany,  but  nowhere  else,  for  it  exemplifies  most  of  Schumann's 
faults  and  his  uncertain  taste.  The  Russian  tour  was  a  financial 
success  for  Clara,  and  Schumann  was  welcomed  as  the  champion 
of  romanticism.  But  he  did  not  improve  in  health,  and  reacted 
petulantly  to  Clara's  enormous  fame  and  popularity. 

There  has  been  a  conspiracy  among  the  Schumann^  right- 
thinking  biographers  to  agree  uniformly  that  their  marriage  was 
an  unqualified  success.  Such,  however,  was  by  no  means  the  case. 
Clara  frequently  suffered  from  not  being  able  to  practice  for  fear 
of  disturbing  Schumann  in  the  throes  of  creation,  and  from  not 
being  able  to  tour  because  he  disliked  her  being  away.  He  never 
reconciled  himself  to  the  anomaly  of  the  composer  being  less  popu- 
lar than  the  performer.  His  wife  stood  with  liszt  and  Thalberg  on 
the  dizziest  heights  of  pianistic  fame,  and  it  quite  naturally  irked 
him  to  be  referred  to  as  "Clara  Schumann's  husband.5*  Clara  saw 
it  as  her  duty  to  act  as  a  buffer  between  Schumann  and  the  out- 
side world,  and  there  is  no  doubt  that  she  did  that  duty  with  high- 
minded — and  deadly — efficiency.  But  Schumann,  instead  of  a  buf- 
fer, needed  a  bridge  to  reality.  Already,  for  lack  of  free  contact 
with  outsiders,  he  was  peopling  his  own  private  world  with  phan- 
tasms which,  as  time  went  on,  became  increasingly  evil. 

There  can  be  no  doubt  that  from  an  exclusively  romantic  point 
of  view  Schumann's  marriage  was  successful.  The  idea  that  it  was 
conducive  to  either  his  artistic  or  mental  well-being  belongs  to  the 
world  of  fable. 

On  his  return  from  Russia,  Schumann  gave  way  to  the  most 
ominous  melancholy,  and  for  a  time  wavered  perilously  near  to 
insanity.  He  gave  up  all  connection  with  the  Zjdtschrift,  and  re- 
signed from  the  conservatory.  His  despair  when  Mendelssohn  en- 
trusted the  Gewandhaus  directorship  to  Gade  was  not  relaxed  by 
his  exaggerated  respect  for  the  Dane  (he  called  one  of  Gade's 
cantatas  "the  most  important  composition  of  our  modern  times") . 
His  moroseness  over  this  slight  may  well  have  been  aggravated  by 
some  realization  of  his  own  inadequacy  as  a  conductor.  Clara  says 
that  "he  gave  himself  up  for  lost."  The  waters  of  Carlsbad  did  not, 
and  could  not,  help  him:  he  was  suffering  from  an  osseous  growth 
that  exerted  increasing  pressure  on  his  brain,  though  this  fact  was 
not  revealed  until  a  post-mortem  examination.  It  was  agreed  that 

306  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

only  a  complete  change  of  scene  could  save  him.  Accordingly,  in 
October,  1844,  the  Schumanns  removed  to  Dresden. 

At  first,  Schumann  lived  in  complete  seclusion,  but  gradually  the 
ease  and  gaiety  of  Dresden  life  drew  him  from  his  solitude,  and  he 
began  to  meet  many  artists  and  musicians.  Wagner,  then  Kapell- 
meister at  the  court  theater,  had  not  yet  achieved  his  characteristic 
style,  and  Schumann  therefore  found  something  good  to  say  of  his 
work.  However,  he  was  not  carried  away  by  Wagner  at  any  time, 
and  years  later  wrote  of  him:  "He  is,  to  express  myself  briefly,  not 
a  good  musician;  he  has  no  understanding  for  form  and  euphony. 
.  .  .  The  music  apart  from  the  representation  is  poor,  often  quite 
amateurish,  empty,  and  repellent.  .  .  ."  Much  more  uniformly 
genial  was  Schumann's  association  with  Ferdinand  Hiller,  until  he 
went  to  Dusseldorf  a  leader  of  Dresden  musical  society.  Hiller,  a 
musical  handyman  in  the  noblest  tradition,  proved  a  loyal  and 
admiring  friend,  always  ready  to  use  his  strategic  position  to  help 
his  unworldly  friend. 

Schumann's  health  varied,  but  generally  it  seemed  improved. 
Not  so  the  state  of  his  mind.  By  this  time  even  a  semblance  of  calm 
on  Ms  part  depended  on  the  course  of  his  life  running  without  a 
single  hitch.  Unfortunately,  he  lost  an  infant  son  in  1847,  an^  two 
years  later  his  last  remaining  brother  died.  Mendelssohn's  death, 
also  in  1847,  affected  him  even  more  intensely,  for  Schumann's 
admiration  of  him  had  been  tinged  with  an  almost  religious  awe. 
His  old  torments  now  returned  increased.  He  suffered  from  lapses 
of  memory;  he  heard  premonitory  voices;  he  fell  easily  into  melan- 
choly and  despair,  and  his  temporary  recoveries  became  more  and 
more  laborious.  Yet  he  kept  on  composing  indomitably,  though 
many  of  the  works  completed  in  Dresden  show  evident  signs  of 
waning  power  and  growing  mental  confusion.  The  most  important 
compositions  of  this  period  are  Genoveva,  the  Album  fur  die  Jugend, 
the  Piano  Concerto,  and  Manfred. 

Gmoveva  is  a  musical  curiosity,  important  only  as  Schumann's 
single  opera.  "Do  you  know  what  is  my  morning  and  evening 
prayer  as  an  artist?5*  he  had  asked.  "German  opera."  Yet  he  selected 
the  legend  of  Genevieve,  the  patron  saint  of  Paris,  for  his  libretto. 
Unfortunately,  Genevieve  had  none  of  those  loose  moments  that 
made  St.  Thais  a  suitable  operatic  subject.  Furthermore,  Schu- 
mann, in  rewriting  the  libretto,  took  away  from  her  the  few  dra- 


matic  qualities  she  possessed.  Wagner,  with  real  friendliness,  tried 
vainly  to  point  out  what  was  wrong.  When  the  opera  was  first  per- 
formed at  Leipzig,  with  the  composer  conducting,  the  consensus 
was  that  he  had  no  dramatic  gift.  The  single  important  dissenter 
seems  to  have  been  Spohr,  who  mistakenly  supposed  that  Genoveva 
carried  out  his  own  operatic  theories.  Schumann,  however,  was 
heartened  by  the  polite  applause  of  critics  and  audience.  He  did 
not  realize  that  opera  was  decidedly  outside  the  range  of  his  gifts, 
and  that  of  Genoveva  only  the  overture,  which  has  some  good  mo- 
ments, would  survive. 

The  much  finer  Manfred  music  has  likewise  vanished  from  the 
stage,  largely  because  Byron  had  neglected  to  make  his  poem 
stageable.  The  overture,  however,  is  sure  to  last:  the  music,  though 
unrelievedly  somber,  is  passionate  and  dramatic;  the  harmonies 
are  gorgeous  and  yet  subtle,  and  the  whole  atmosphere  is  quintes- 
sentially  romantic.  It  is,  beyond  question,  the  most  successful  of 
Schumann's  works  for  orchestra  alone.  With  superb  tactlessness,  he 
planned  to  dedicate  his  setting  of  Byron  to  Queen  Victoria.  For- 
tunately for  both  parties,  this  plan  fell  through. 

The  Piano  Concerto,  dedicated  to  Hiller,  and  possibly  the  best 
known  in  the  standard  repertoire,  was  first  performed  by  Clara. 
It  was  for  her  an  occasion  of  the  greatest  rejoicing:  she  had  always 
wanted  a  "large  bravura  piece"  from  her  husband.  When  the 
Concerto  was  performed  in  Leipzig,  the  Gewandhaus  patrons  (then 
the  most  enlightened  on  the  Continent)  were  already  thoroughly 
acquainted  with  Schumann's  ideas,  but  it  took  this  definitive  ex- 
pression of  them  to  evoke  the  Leipzigers5  unqualified  enthusiasm, 
The  Piano  Concerto  offered  them  an  experience  for  whose  equal 
they  had  to  reach  back  to  Beethoven.  The  opening  allegro,  which 
had  had  an  independent  existence  since  1841  as  a  fantasia  for 
piano  and  orchestra,  is  unstintedly  opulent  in  melody,  and  rises  to 
moments  of  sheer  rhapsody.  Its  cadenza,  far  from  interrupting  the 
mood  of  the  whole  movement,  sustains  it — which  makes  it  a  rarity 
among  piano  cadenzas.  The  intermezzo  is  more  restrained  and 
contemplative,  and  the  marvelously  varied  rhythms  of  the  finale 
mount  and  mingle  in  a  paean  of  unrestrained  joy.  These  elements 
combine  to  produce,  in  the  A  minor  Concerto,  the  sovereign  ges- 
ture of  musical  romanticism. 

The  Album  fur  die  Jugend,  a  collection  of  forty-three  brief  pieces, 

308  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

is  often  misleadingly  bracketed  with  the  Kinderscenen,  on  the  grounds 
that  both  are  music  of  childhood.  The  Kmderscenen,  composed  ten 
years  earlier,  is  a  grown  man's  reverie  of  his  own  childhood;  the 
Album  is  actually  for  children— sharp  little  pictures  that  might  ap- 
peal to  any  child.  In  view  of  Schumann's  mental  torments,  their 
marked  darity  of  outline  is  baffling.  They  are  no  more  than 
charming  trifles,  but  are  important  as  the  ancestors  of  thousands 
of  repulsive  Httle  pieces— those  "Dolly's  Lullabies"  and  "Birdie's 
Boatsongs"  that  are  the  staples  of  the  musical  kindergarten. 

Schumann  continued  to  compose  for  the  piano,  but  without  his 
name  on  them  those  earnest  marches,  fugues,  and  Albumbldtter 
would  never  have  found  homes  even  in  music  libraries.  But  once 
more,  and  inexplicably,  he  produced  a  masterpiece  for  the  piano — 
one  unlike  anything  he  had  done  before.  Vogel  als  Prophet,  from  the 
Waldscenm,  is  an  enigma,  with  all  the  magical  quality  and  strange 
beauties  of  a  changeling.  Years  later,  Claude  Debussy  heard  the 
same  faery  note,  and  musical  impressionism  was  born. 

By  the  middle  of  1850  the  Schumanns  were  thoroughly  dissatis- 
fied with  Dresden,  where  the  composer^  talents  went  unrecognized 
by  court,  artists,  and  public  at  large.  When  Wagner  lost  his  post  as 
Kapellmeister  because  of  his  part  in  the  revolutionary  outbreaks  of 
1848-9,  Schumann  was  passed  over  in  choosing  his  successor.  He 
abandoned  aU  hope  of  securing  a  good  musical  position  in  Dres- 
den. Happily,  however,  the  directorship  of  the  Diisseldorf  Ge- 
sangverein  fell  vacant  when  HiHer  left  to  become  town  musician 
at  Cologne,  Before  leaving  Diisseldorf,  he  recommended  Schu- 
mann for  this  honorable  enough  post,  which  carried  an  annual 
stipend  of  seven  hundred  thaler.  Schumann  hesitated  (he  still 
hoped  for  bigger  things  at  Vienna  or  Berlin) ,  but  by  August  it  was 
clear  that  Diisseldorf  was  the  best  he  could  expect,  and  he  accepted 
Killer's  proposal. 

After  a  rosy  beginning.,  Schumann  got  on  badly  with  the  Diis- 
seldorfers.  His  conducting  rapidly  became  notorious.  He  was  in- 
competent, so  lost  in  a  dreamworld  of  his  own  that  he  could  not 
even  beat  time  accurately.  Of  course,  the  subtleties  of  conducting 
— those  attributes  of  a  truly  great  conductor — were  entirely  beyond 
Mm.  On  one  occasion  he  went  on  automatically  waving  his  baton 
after  a  composition  was  finished.  Another  time,  a  member  of  the 
Gesangverein  complained  to  Qara  of  Schumann's  apathetic  gen- 


tleness.  The  more  Intelligent  Diisseldorfers,  who  had  expected  a 
bold  and  valiant  David$bundlery  were  overtly  disappointed  in  the 
taciturn  and  antisocial  composer,  whose  actions  at  the  conductor's 
desk  seemed  to  insult  their  musical  sophistication.  The  bickering 
between  Schumann  and  his  committeemen  is  at  once  tragic  and 
comic,  and  is  given  a  satiric  twist  by  the  good  burghers*  natural 
desire  to  get  their  money's  worth.  Although  most  of  the  time  only 
so  in  name,  Schumann  remained  director  of  the  Gesangverein 
until  the  autumn  of  1853. 

Of  almost  fifty  works  composed  during  the  Diisseldorf  period, 
only  one,  the  E  flat  major  ("Rhenish")  Symphony,  is  still  much 
played.  What  charm  it  has  reflects  Schumann's  very  warm  feeling 
toward  his  new  home.  But  its  interminable  length — it  is  five  move- 
ments long — is  too  sparsely  populated  with  good  things,  and  its 
windy  transitions  show  Schumann's  self-criticism  working  less  than 
ever.  It  is  hard  to  judge  the  Faust  music,  written  over  a  period  of 
years,  and  completed  in  Diisseldorf,  for  it  is  never  performed.  As 
it  is  possible  to  hear  any  number  of  respectable  but  uninspired 
cantatas  every  few  years,  the  complete  silence  of  Schumann's  Faust 
tells  an  eloquent  tale  in  a  novelty-hungry  world.  Not  a  bar  of  this 
music  is  available  in  recordings.  And  though  the  learned  Dr. 
Philipp  Spitta  avers  that  "up  to  the  latter  half  of  the  last  chorus 
it  is  a  chain  of  musical  gems,  a  perfectly  unique  contribution  to 
concert  literature,*'  the  elaborate  score  looks  far  from  promising. 

The  Dusseldorf  compositions  reveal  one  thing  all  too  clearly: 
the  drying  up  of  Schumann's  inspiration.  They  show,  instead  of 
profound  conviction,  a  pedantic,  classicizing  tendency  and  a  tech- 
nical facility  not  at  all  characteristic  of  his  best  efforts.  Many  of 
them  are  choral,  and  are  as  empty  and  sentimental  as  the  verses 
to  which  they  were  written. 

Meanwhile,  shadows  were  falling  more  deeply  on  Schumann's 
mind.  Years  before,  he  had  heard  ghostly  voices,  but  only  at  rare 
intervals.  Now  these  auditory  sensations  multiplied  and  became 
painful,  though  it  was  not  until  the  beginning  of  1854  that  the 
process  of  disintegration  became  so  manifest  that  Clara,  who  had 
been  very  reluctant  to  admit  that  her  husband  was  anything  more 
than  moody,  became  alarmed  for  his  sanity.  Fortunately  for  her, 
Brahms  had  appeared  in  September,  1853,  and  both  the  Schu- 
manns  were  won  over  by  the  young  viking  with  his  massive  blond 


mane  and  awkward,  unaffected  manner.  Schumann  roused  him- 
self long  enough  to  greet  Brahms  with  the  ardor  of  youth.  And 
now,  in  his  desire  to  help  this  young  man,  whose  genius  he  at  once 
recognized,  and  whom  he  rather  pathetically  saw  as  someone  "sent 
by  God"  to  carry  on  his  own  work,  be  bethought  himself  of  the 
%dtschrift.  It  had  passed  into  the  hands  of  Franz  Brendel,  who  was 
wholeheartedly  devoted  to  the  Neo-German  school  of  Wagner  and 
Liszt,  and  therefore  unalterably  opposed  to  Schumann.  However, 
he  sent  Brendel  a  high-flown  but  prophetic  article  on  Brahms,  and 
the  editor  felt  obliged  to  print  this  last  message  from  the  magazine's 
illustrious  founder. 

^Respite  from  final  darkness  was  granted  until  February,  1854, 
and  these  last  months  in  Diisseldorf  were  gladdened  for  Schumann 
by  the  warm  friendship  of  Brahms  and  Joseph  Joachim,  the  latter 
of  whom  the  Schumanns  had  met  as  a  child  more  than  ten  years 
before.  Schumann  amused  himself  with  table  tapping,  a  frighten- 
ing symptom  in  one  whose  intelligence  and  understanding  had,  up 
to  this  time,  been  sane  and  firm  despite  his  growing  melancholy. 
Strangely  enough,  Clara  did  not  see  the  significance  of  the  new 
toy.  In  fact,  she  treated  the  whole  situation  rather  lightly.  And 
possibly  she  cannot  be  blamed,  for  Schumann  after  his  arrival  at 
Diisseldorf  had  been  ostensibly  "cured."  And  so  he  stayed,  with 
some  lapses,  until  the  final  stage  of  his  malady.  As  late  as  the  last 
months  of  1853,  ke  was  a^e  to  accompany  Clara  on  a  Dutch  tour, 
during  which  he  enjoyed  himself.  They  were  back  in  Diisseldorf 
by  Christmas,  and  the  January  of  1854  passed  uneventfully. 

On  February  6,  Schumann  wrote  to  Joachim:  "I  have  often 
written  you  with  sympathetic  ink,  and  between  these  lines,  too, 
there  is  a  secret  writing  which  will  afterwards  be  revealed.  .  .  . 
Music  is  silent  at  present,  externally  at  least.  .  .  .  And  now  I 
must  close.  Night  is  beginning  to  fall-"  And  darkness  was  indeed 
closing  in  upon  him.  The  auditory  hallucinations  developed  with 
alarming  rapidity.  He  heard  choirs  of  angels,  cries  of  demons.  The 
spirits  of  Schubert  and  Mendelssohn  appeared,  and  gave  him  a 
theme,  which  he  noted  down.  Voices  whispered.  He  could  not 
sleep.  On  the  twenty-fourth,  he  disposed  of  his  fortune  and  works, 
and  bade  a  touching  farewell  to  Clara,  now  heavy  with  their  eighth 
child.  On  the  twenty-sixth,  he  left  the  house,  walked  to  the  Rhine, 
and  threw  himself  in.  He  was  brought  home  still  alive  some  hours 


later  by  strangers  who  had  managed  to  get  him  to  shore,  and  the 
facts  were  carefully  hidden  from  Clara  in  view  of  her  pregnancy. 

On  March  4,  Schumann  was  removed  at  his  own  request  to  a 
sanatorium  at  Endenich,  near  Bonn.  He  was  never  to  return  home. 
At  times  a  ray  of  light  penetrated  his  clouded  mind.  He  did  some 
musical  arrangements,  and  noted  down  quotations  for  his  pro- 
jected Dichtergarten,  which  he  intended  to  be  a  compendium  of  the 
best  remarks  on  music  from  all  the  greatest  writers.  He  had  lucid 
intervals,  during  some  of  which  Brahms  was  with  him.  But  in  less 
than  two  years  all  hope  of  his  recovery  was  abandoned.  He  lin- 
gered, often  in  acute  pain  and  anguish,  until  July  29,  1856,  when 
he  died  in  the  arms  of  Clara,  who  had  previously  refrained  from 
seeing  him  for  fear  of  aggravating  his  condition.^ 

"I  saw  him  in  the  evening,  between  six  and  seven,"  she  wrote. 
"He  smiled  at  me  and  put  his  arms  around  me  with  great  diffi- 
culty, for  he  had  almost  lost  control  of  his  limbs.  Never  shall  I 
forget  that  moment.  I  would  not  give  that  embrace  for  all  the 
treasures  on  earth.55  The  next  day  he  was  buried  in  the  cemetery 
at  Bonn,  and  Clara,  Hiller,  Brahms,  and  Joachim  were  present  at 
the  ceremony. 

Schumann  has  been  called  a  great  music  critic  so  often  that  it  is 
annoying  to  discover  that  he  was  nothing  of  the  sort.  When,  in 
183 1,  he  penned  his  first  critical  effusion,  he  was  a  young  man  with 
a  small  literary  gift  and  an  overwhelming  enthusiasm.  His  critical 
method  was  certainly  the  strangest  ever  used:  it  was  based  exclu- 
sively on  impulse.  An  examination  of  his  so-called  critical  writings 
discloses  a  depressing  mixture  of  praise  for  the  best,  the  good,  the 
mediocre,  and  the  positively  bad.  His  fame  as  a  critic  rests  on  the 
happy  chance  that  he  began  his  career  by  gushing  over  the  young 
Chopin,  and  closed  it  by  doing  the  same  service  for  Brahms. 

Schumann  was  ever  betrayed  by  his  uncertain  taste.  Most  of  his 
enthusiasms  were  for  men  whose  names  are  today  as  deservedly 
dead  as  the  Herzes  and  Huntens  he  himself  reprobated  in  the 
prologue  to  his  collected  writings.  Even  Meyerbeer,  one  of  his  few 
hatreds,  deserved  better  at  his  hands  than  such  mediocrities  as 
Gade  and  Sterndale  Bennett.  Wagner  baffled  him  completely,  even 
though  he  heard  nothing  later  than  Tannhauser.  Hero  worship  im- 

312  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

pelled  him  to  overpraise  not  only  the  less  inspired  works  of  Men- 
delssohn, but  also  the  trifling  imitations  of  Mendelssohn's  satellites. 

But  Schumann's  worst  fault  as  a  critic  is  that  he  does  not  criti- 
cize. He  effuses,  he  palavers,  he  strikes  a  pose,  occasionally  he 
vituperates;  he  almost  never  describes  or  analyzes.  Even  when  he 
is  talking  about  a  composition  like  Mendelssohn's  St.  Paul,  his  dis- 
course is  lyric  rather  than  critical.  If  by  some  chance  every  score 
of  this  oratorio  were  to  be  destroyed,  nothing  Schumann  said  about 
it  would  help  us  to  recapture  its  quality.  He  always  says,  "I  like" 
or  "I  do  not  like" — rarely  does  he  say  anything  more. 

Schumann  was  not  a  true  critic  of  other  men's  music,  and  he 
was  not  a  true  critic  of  his  own.  He  understood  the  piano,  and  his 
happiest  and  most  characteristic  pages  were  composed  for  that  in- 
strument. He  did  not  understand  the  special  character  of  the 
chamber  ensemble  and  the  orchestra,  and  in  writing  for  them  too 
often  treated  them  as  expanded  pianos.  Even  in  the  field  of  the 
lied,  where  he  has  few  peers,  he  did  not  unfailingly  give  the  human 
voice  music  best  adapted  to  its  peculiar  genius.  Schumann  was 
fecund  in  musical  ideas,  but  his  way  of  expressing  them  seems  often 
to  have  been  determined  by  nothing  more  cogent  than  the  genre 
that  was  his  passion  at  the  moment. 

Everything  points  to  Schumann's  inability  to  cope  with  this 
problem  of  musical  choice.  Closely  allied  to  it  is  the  failure  of  his 
attempts  to  project  his  ideas  on  a  large  scale.  His  material  is  in- 
tensely subjective,  and  is  suited  just  to  those  short  pieces  and 
passages  which,  in  fact,  represent  him  at  his  best.  He  lacked  that 
sense  of  large  design  which  would  have  enabled  him  successfully 
to  relate  several  of  these  fragments  in  a  symphony  or  sonata.  There 
is  much  sound  wisdom  in  Bernard  Shaw's  wisecrack  about  the 
desirability  of  boiling  down  all  the  Schumann  symphonies  into  a 
potpourri  called  "Gems  from  Schumann."  There  are  many  mo- 
ments of  great  harmomc>  rhythmic,  and  melodic  beauty  in  his 
larger  compositions,  but  his  way  of  stringing  unrelated  fragments 
together  does  not  make  for  that  feeling  of  inevitability  that  is  the 
hallmark  of  the  greatest  music.  Bu,ta  of  course,  Schumann  was  not 
one  of  the  greatest  composers. 

Schumann's  position  is,  rather,  a  high  one  among  masters  of  the 
second  rank.  A  few  of  his  works  are  sure  to  survive — the  Quintet,, 
the  Piano  Concerto,  the  overture  to  Manfred?  the  best  of  his  songs 


and  piano  pieces.  In  them  his  peculiar  genius  is  at  its  flood — in  the 
daring  rhythms,  the  somber-textured  harmonies,  the  melodies  that 
distill  their  essence  in  bittersweet  epigrams.  These  are  not  the 
utterances  of  a  god.  Schumann's  special  magic  is  his  disturbing 
nearness  to  us.  And  he  is  most  disturbing  because,  once  heard,  he 
can  never  be  forgotten.  He  is  the  voice  of  romance. 

Chapter  XIII 

Frederic-Francois  Chopin 

(Zelazowa-Wola,  February  22,  1810— 
October  ij,  1849,  Paris) 

THERE  are  still  many  people  who  persist  in  thinking  of  Chopin 
as  a  more  or  less  inspired  dilettante  and  cvoker  of  small  musical 
moods.  Yet,  he  was  the  most  truly  original  of  all  composers.*  He 
arrived  almost  immediately  at  a  personal  idiom  that  is  absolutely 
unmistakable — an  original  style  so  pervasive  that  a  fragmentary 
bar  or  two  will  serve  to  identify  a  composition  as  his.  With  a  rare 
sense  of  what  kingdom  he  could  make  his  own,,  he  chose  to  write 
music  for  the  piano.  He  never  composed  an  opera  or  an  oratorio, 
never  a  symphony,  never  even  a  string  quartet.  These  large  forms 
he  left  to  others,  and  cultivated  his  own  garden.  He  worked  in  a 
dozen  or  more  forms,  several  of  them  of  his  own  creation.  He  is  the 
composer  par  excellence  of  inexhaustible  variety  in  infinite  detail. 
Nor,  except  when  he  tried  to  force  his  idiosyncratic  poetry  into 
some  larger  classical  form,  did  his  Flaubertian  feeling  for  the  mu- 
sical mot  juste  interfere  with  his  respect  for  the  architecture  of  a 
composition  as  an  entity. 

Chopin  has  never  lacked  champions,  but  there  is  no  doubt  that 
his  intelligent  self-limitation  has  acted  adversely  on  his  fame.  The 
very  pervasiveness  of  his  idiom  has  acted  no  less  adversely.  In  a 
certain  limited  sense,  all  of  his  music  sounds  alike:  in  their  peculiar 
melodic  line  and  rhythms,  their  acid-sweet  harmonic  sequences, 
their  persistent  trend  to  the  minor,  and  their  lavish  use  of  orna- 
mentation, the  oeuvres  completes  of  Frederic-Frangois  Chopin  are  a 
singular  phenomenon  whose  component  parts  have  a  deceptive — 
and,  to  some,  a  monotonous — similarity.  The  elements  that  shaped 
his  musical  language  are  easy  to  isolate.  Partly  Polish,  he  was  the 
first  to  introduce  a  Slavic  note  into  Western  music — the  experi- 
ments of  earlier  composers,  who  cast  Slavic  folk  melodies  into  the 
absorbent,  neutralizing  classical  mold,  do  not  affect  the  argument. 

*  This  chapter  is  written  on  the  assumption  that  Chopin  was  a  great  composer — 
this  as  a  warning  to  any  violent  dissenters  from  this  opinion.  The  writers  know  that 
no  argument  however  good,  would  make  these  dissenters  change  their  minds. 


CHOPIN  315 

He  was  a  neurotic,  and  his  music  often  expresses  a  hypersensitive, 
decadent,  and  rather  feminine  personality.  Further,  he  lived  in  a 
time  and  place  overfriendly  to  the  flowering  of  such  a  personality, 
and  therefore  it  is  no  accident  that  this  pampered  Pole  who  spent 
most  of  his  creative  life  in  Paris  wrote  the  most  characteristic  mu- 
sical illustrations  of  French  romanticism. 

Chopin  is  always  spoken  of  as  a  Polish  composer.  With  more 
justice,  he  could  be  called  a  French  composer.  His  mother  was 
Polish,  he  spent  the  first  twenty  years  of  his  Ufe  in  Poland,  and  he 
was  always  violently  patriotic — from  a  safe  distance.  On  the  other 
hand,  his  father  was  French,  and  it  was  in  France,  under  French 
influences,  that  he  wrote  most  of  the  music  by  which  he  is  today 
remembered.  Nicolas  Chopin,  his  father,  was  an  emigre  who  had 
been  stranded  in  Warsaw  by  the  failure  of  the  French  snuff  manu- 
facturers for  whom  he  had  worked.  Becoming  a  tutor  in  the  home 
of  Count  Skarbek,  he  had  married  the  Countess'  lady  in  waiting, 
Justina  Krzyzanowska,  herself  of  noble  birth.  Fred6ric-Frangois, 
their  second  child  and  only  son,  was  born  on  February  22,  1810, 
at  Zelazowa-Wola,  a  small  village  near  Warsaw,  where  the  Skar- 
beks  had  a  country  place.  The  Chopins  shortly  removed  to  War- 
saw, Nicolas  began  teaching  in  several  schools  (he  soon  opened  a 
successful  tutoring  academy  of  his  own),  and  their  home  became 
a  favorite  resort  of  artists  and  intellectuals.  They  were  neither  poor 
nor  rich — always  comfortable,  with  money  enough  for  an  occa- 
sional small  luxury.  Nicolas  was  a  flautist,  Justina  a  singer  of  pleas- 
ing voice,  and  the  eldest  child,  Ludwika,  played  the  piano.  We 
must  conceive  of  music,  then,  as  always  going  on  in  this  pleasant 
household,  and  of  the  fond  parents  violently  distressed  when  they 
saw  that  their  infant  son  reacted  with  floods  of  tears  to  the  sound 
of  music.  They  thought  he  hated  it,  and  it  was  only  when  he 
began  to  pick  out  tunes  on  the  piano  that  they  realized  he  had 
been  crying  for  joy.  They  had  a  hysteric  on  their  hands,  not  a 
music  hater. 

And  so,  at  the  age  of  six  Frederic  began  to  take  lessons  from  a 
solid  and  withal  sympathetic  Czech  piano  teacher,  Adalbert  Zywny, 
for  whom  he  always  entertained  a  lively  feeling  of  gratitude.  Zywny 
was  a  devotee  of  Bach,  and  trained  the  boy  on  The  Well-Tempered 
Clavichord,  thus  giving  a  firm  foundation  -to  his  pianism.  Not  the 
most  brilliant  of  virtuoso  prodigies,  Frederic  nevertheless  publicly 

316  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

played  a  concerto  on  his  eighth  birthday.  The  noblemen,  and  even 
more  the  noblewomen,  who  made  up  the  audience  were  enchanted 
by  the  tiny,  winsome  child,  and  from  that  day  until  his  death 
Chopin  was  the  darling  of  the  Polish  haute  noblesse— -an  excellent 
buffer  against  the  cruel  world.  He  took  to  his  noble  admirers  as 
much  as  they  to  him.  One  of  his  childish  pleasures  was  being  taken 
in  Grand  Duke  Constantine's  carriage  to  a  party  at  the  palace. 
He  not  unnaturally  became  a  snob,  and  instead  of  his  snobbishness 
leaving  him,  it  throve  as  he  matured,  and  remained  one  of  his  less 
pleasant  traits.  It  must  be  admitted,  however,  that  Polish  society 
at  that  time  was,  with  all  its  absurd  prejudices,  among  the  most 
highly  cultivated  in  Europe,  having  a  genuine  interest  in  the  arts, 
particularly  music  and  poetry. 

Frederic  began  to  dabble  with  little  compositions  of  his  own 
almost  as  soon  as  he  could  play  the  piano.  His  father,  without  any 
demur,  sent  him  to  Joseph  Eisner,  the  best  composition  teacher  in 
Warsaw,  and  a  widely  known  and  all  too  prolific  composer.  This 
was  the  happiest  of  choices,  for  one  of  Eisner's  favorite  maxims 
(which  should  be  emblazoned  over  the  door  of  every  music  school) 
was:  "It  is  not  enough  for  a  student  to  equal  or  surpass  his  master; 
he  should  create  an  individuality  of  his  own."  He  instantly  recog- 
nized that  Chopin's  were  no  usual  gifts,  and  allowed  him  what 
certain  austere  critics  have  considered  too  much  leeway  in  devel- 
oping them.  Chopin  realized  his  debt  to  Eisner,  and  the  bond  be- 
tween them  lasted  throughout  his  life.  These  lessons  with  Zywny 
and  Eisner  constituted  his  entire  formal  education,  with  the  excep- 
tion of  three  years  at  the  Warsaw  Lycee,  where  he  took  no  interest 
in  Ms  courses.  He  passed  them  by  the  skin  of  his  teeth,  and  was 
graduated  at  the  age  of  seventeen — a  slender,  dandified,  effeminate 
boy,  whose  pallor  and  feeble  physique  told  of  a  hothouse  life  di- 
vided between  the  music  room  and  the  salons  of  high  society. 

Chopin  craved  adventure,  adventure  to  him  meaning  life  as  it 
was  lived  in  the  cosmopolitan  centers  of  Europe.  In  1828,  he  got 
a  glimpse  of  Berlin  as  the  guest  of  a  family  friend  who  went  there 
to  attend  a  scientific  congress  presided  over  by  the  eternal  Alex- 
ander von  Humboldt.  He  stared  wistfully  at  Spontini  and  Men- 
delssohn, but  was  too  timid  to  introduce  himself.  He  reveled  in  the 
sumptuous  stagings  of  several  operas,  and  wrote  home  that  Han- 
del's Ode  for  St  Cecilia's  Day  "most  nearly  approaches  my  ideal  of 

CHOPIN  317 

sublime  music."  After  this  tactful  and  far  from  intoxicating  four- 
week  introduction  to  the  great  world  beyond  the  Polish  frontier, 
Chopin  was  back  in  Warsaw  absorbed  in  musical  study  and  com- 
position. The  advent  of  Johann  Nepomuk  Hummel,  that  phenom- 
enal ambassador  of  the  eighteenth  century  to  the  nineteenth,* 
aroused  the  lad's  restlessness;  that  of  Paganini  made  it  intolerable. 
Furthermore,  he  was  racked  by  all  the  torments  of  calf  love:  the 
object  of  his  passion  was  a  pretty  soprano,  but  Chopin  had  not 
the  courage  to  declare  himself,  and  merely  suffered  and  talked 
about  his  "ideal." 

Nicolas  Chopin  decided  that  such  agony  and  nostalgia  should 
be  indulged,  and  accordingly,  in  the  summer  of  1829, tlle  money 
for  a  Viennese  trip  was  somehow  found.  In  Vienna,  Frederic  suc- 
cumbed gracefully  to  a  slender  success.  He  found,  to  start  with, 
that  a  publisher  was  on  the  verge  of  issuing  his  variations  for  piano 
and  orchestra  on  "La  ci  darem"  from  Don  Giovanni.  Then  he  was 
persuaded,  almost  against  his  will,  to  give  a  concert  "in  a  city 
which  can  boast  of  having  heard  a  Haydn,  a  Mozart,  and  a  Bee- 
thoven." He  was  needlessly  nervous,  for  the  concert  was  so  success- 
ful that,  a  week  later,  he  had  to  give  another.  The  critics  were 
extremely  friendly,  and  there  was  a  flurry  in  the  female  dovecotes. 
There  were  a  few  dissenters:  Moscheles  said  his  tone  was  "too 
small,"  and  one  woman  was  heard  to  say,  "It's  a  pity  he's  so 

Chopin  returned  home  sighing  more  woefully  than  ever  for  his 
soprano  and  bored  to  death  with  the  attractions  of  Warsaw.  His 
letters  to  Titus  Wojciechowski,  the  confidant  of  his  maidenly  hopes 
and  fears,  quiver  with  self-pity  and  verbal  breast-beating.  This  no 
doubt  thoroughly  masculine  young  man  seems  to  have  been  for 
some  years  a  surrogate  for  the  girls  Chopin  lacked  the  boldness  to 
speak  out  to.  There  is  something  decidedly  ambiguous  about  these 
letters,  with  their  kisses,  embraces,  and  wheedling  sentimentality, 
gently  chiding  "my  dearest  life" — Titus! — for  his  unresponsive- 
ness.  There  is  no  suggestion  of  the  overtly  abnormal  anywhere  in 
Chopin's  life,  and  indeed  he  outgrew  his  effusive  outpourings  to 
men  friends,  but  without  developing  into  an  aggressive  male.  It  is 

*  The  pupil  of  Haydn,  Mozart,  and  Salieri,  and  the  friend  of  Beethoven,  he 
*aiight,  among  other  notabtti,  Czerny,  Hiller,  and  Thalberg. 


Impossible  fully  to  understand  his  music  unless  we  recognize  the 
generous  feminine  component  in  his  nature. 

Warsaw  held  Chopin  for  little  more  than  a  year,  during  which 
time  he  fretfully  and  vaguely  made  and  unmade  plans  for  the 
future.  He  thrice  played  successfully  in  public,  the  third  time  with 
his  pretty  soprano  as  assisting  artist — which  may  well  have  been 
the  climax  of  his  intimacy  with  her.  At  last  he  made  up  his  waver- 
ing mind:  on  November  i,  1830,  he  left  Warsaw.  He  was  still 
vague  about  his  plans,  his  itinerary  was  "parts  unknown,"  but  for 
the  time  being  he  was  going  to  Vienna  with  Titus  WojciechowskL 
As  he  passed  through  his  birthplace,  Eisner  had  a  cantata  sung 
in  his  honor,  and  did  not  (despite  a  legend  to  the  contrary) 
present  him  with  an  urnful  of  Polish  earth — an  appropriate  gift, 
it  would  have  been  for  Chopin  never  returned  home. 

Vienna  amazed  and  annoyed  Chopin  by  turning  an  exceedingly 
cold  shoulder.  The  publisher  who  had  been  so  nice  to  him  on  the 
previous  trip  still  wished  to  sponsor  certain  of  his  compositions — 
if  he  could  get  them  for  nothing.  His  former  friends  were  either 
bankrupt  or  sick  or  out  of  town.  And  scarcely  had  Chopin  and 
Titus  settled  down  before  they  heard  that  the  Poles  had  rebelled 
against  the  Russian  tyranny.  Titus  was  off  at  once  to  fight  for 
Poland,  and  Frederic,  after  weeping  for  a  day,  decided  to  follow 
him.  En  route  he  changed  his  mind,  and  within  a  few  days  was 
back  in  his  comfortable  lodgings.  It  seems  more  than  odd  that  the 
bereft  youth  remained  for  over  six  months  in  a  city  that  was  not 
only  indifferent  to  him,  but  which,  after  the  rebellion  broke  out, 
became  violently  anti-Polish.  In  July,  1831,  Chopin  was  again  on 
the  road,  with  no  destination  except  a  vague  feeling  that  he  might 
end  up  in  London.  At  Stuttgart  he  heard  that  the  Russians  had 
retaken  Warsaw,  which  seems  to  have  surprised  as  well  as  agitated 
Mm,  though  fortunately  he  received  letters  from  his  family  that 
banished  his  more  horrific  visions.  Late  in  September,  he  arrived 
in  Paris,  intending  merely  to  see  the  sights  and  meet  the  important 
musicians.  Instead,  he  stayed  for  the  rest  of  his  life. 

The  slight,  blond-haired  young  Pole  with  the  prominent  aqui- 
line nose,  who  arrived  on  the  Parisian  scene  in  the  second  year  of 
Louis-Philippe's  reign,  already  had  a  small  fame.  He  was  known 
in  his  homeland  and  in  a  few  cities  outside  as  a  pianist  whose  deli- 
cate style  and  exquisite  nuances  made  overhearing  him  in  a  large 


hall  something  of  a  problem.  He  was  by  now  the  composer  of  several 
ambitious  piano  works  with  orchestral  accompaniment,  not  to 
speak  of  a  number  of  smaller  pieces  for  piano  alone.  The  history 
of  Chopin's  development  as  a  composer  indicates  that  these  or- 
chestral works — all  written  before  he  was  twenty-one — were  little 
more  than  shrewd  bids  for  recognition  in  a  musical  world  whose 
snobbish  arbiters  were  inclined  to  look  askance  at  anyone  who 
had  not  a  symphony  or  an  opera,  or  at  least  a  concerto,  to  his 
credit.  A  composer  of  mere  piano  pieces  had  no  chance  to  enter 
this  charmed  circle.  Chopin  knew  this,  got  the  required  big  works 
off  his  chest,  and,  with  his  reputation  established,  turned  exclu- 
sively to  the  solo  pieces  in  which  he  knew  his  strength  lay. 

No  man  ever  made  a  wiser  decision.  Chopin  had  no  talent  for 
orchestration,  no  real  understanding  of  the  deeper  issues  involved 
in  composing  a  work  in  several  movements:  he  lacked  the  long 
breath  needed  for  such  an  enterprise.  Schumann's  mistaken  chori- 
ambics  over  the  "La  d  darem"  Variations  come  under  the  heading 
of  clairvoyance  rather  than  of  criticism.  The  two  piano  concertos 
are  both  played,  but  no  one  has  ever  been  satisfied  with  them. 
Numerous  musical  mechanics  have  tried  their  hands  at  viriKzing 
the  orchestration,  once  so  successfully  that  the  piano  part  itself 
had  to  be  reinforced.  No  amount  of  tinkering,  however,  could  ever 
give  either  of  them  more  than  a  surface  unity.  It  is  true,  but  by  no 
means  complimentary,  to  say  that  the  concertos  are  at  their  best 
when  they  most  nearly  resemble  Chopin's  solo  pieces,  when,  in 
short,  he  forgets  the  orchestra  (which  he  often  does),  and  writes  a 
sprightly  waltz  or  rondo.  Separate  movements  of  these  concertos 
could  easily  be  made  into  solo  pieces  without  loss  of  effectiveness — 
and  possibly  with  gain  in  the  allegro  vivace  of  the  F  minor  or  the 
rondo  of  the  E  minor.  Among  the  many  reasonable  criticisms  lev- 
eled at  the  Chopin  concertos,  no  one  has  impugned  their  melodic 
charm,  insinuating  adornments,  or  persuasive  rhythms.  They  are 
not  great  music,  but  they  are  very  pleasant  to  listen  to. 

So  we  may  gather  that  Chopin  at  once  stepped  into  a  respect- 
able if  not  distinguished  niche  in  Parisian  musical  life.  Paris,  in 
the  early  thirties  of  the  nineteenth  century,  was  the  capital  of 
artistic  Europe.  Cherubini  was  still,  despite  his  Italian  name,  the 
grand  old  man  of  French  music,  and  the  popular  composers  were, 
after  Rossini,  who  led  the  field  by  a  long  stretch,  Meyerbeer, 

32O  MEN    OF    MTJSIG 

Auber,  and  Louis  H6rold,  whose  %ampay  produced  just  after  Cho- 
pin's arrival,  gave  him  a  phenomenal  popularity  that  was  cut 
short  by  Ms  premature  death  two  years  later.  Vincenzo  Bellini, 
the  composer  oiNormay  though  already  a  great  name,  was  not  to 
arrive  on  the  scene  until  1833,  when  he  and  Chopin,  so  alike  in 
melodic  style,  and  sharing  a  passion  for  Mozart,  formed  a  friend- 
ship that  lasted  until  the  young  Sicilian's  death  in  1835.  Berlioz 
was  shaking  his  fierce  red  locks  at  the  dried-up  elders  of  classicism. 
Franz  Liszt,  youthful  and  dreamy  as  in  Ingres3  poetic  drawing, 
divided  honors  at  the  keyboard  with  Friedrich  Kalkbrenner,  a 
massively  correct  pedant  who  once  told  Chopin  that  he  might  do 
something  for  his  playing  if  Chopin  would  but  study  with  him  for 
three  years*  At  the  Opera  the  galaxy  included  such  luminaries  as 
Malibran  and  Pasta,  Rubini  and  Lablache.  No  less  brilliant  was 
the  literary  scene,  where  the  already  aged  Chateaubriand,  with 
many  years  of  literary  doddering  before  him,  was  yielding  to  the 
ultraromanticists  led  by  Victor  Hugo,  the  colossus  of  the  future, 
whose  hectic  Hernani  was  the  defi  of  the  young  fanatics.  Balzac  was 
established,  Stendhal  was  at  the  height  of  his  powers,  and  Gautier, 
Dumas,  and  Merim£e  were  on  the  ascent  Heine,  with  his  puny, 
ailing  body  and  flashing  mind,  was  in  Paris  squeezing  out  the  ut- 
most rapture  from  the  pseudo  revolution  of  1830.  Over  painting, 
the  coldly  disciplined  genius  of  Ingres  exercised  a  chilling  dic- 
tatorship; the  youthful  opposition  was  rallying  around  Delacroix, 
whose  tumultuous  canvases  scandalized  the  official  salons. 

Everywhere  classicism  was  in  retreat  Music  alone  awaited  its 
first  out-and-out  romantic  masters:  two  of  them — Chopin  and 
Liszt — were  at  hand. 

To  make  his  name  weigh  in  such  a  splendid  artistic  society  was, 
at  first,  no  easy  task,  Chopin  was  next  to  penniless,  but  there 
seemed  no  doubt  that  among  the  many  publics  Paris  could  offer, 
there  must  be  one  for  him.  A  debut  concert,  arranged  for  Decem- 
ber, 1831,  was  postponed  until  late  January.  Then  the  critic 
F6tis,  who  had  a  strong  aversion  to  praising  anyone,  shouted  his 
approval,  and  Mendelssohn,  though  he  was  wont  to  speak  con- 
descendingly of  the  composer  as  "Chopinetto,"  warmly  applauded 
the  pianist*  The  concert  enhanced  Chopin's  reputation  among 
musicians,  but  only  a  few  Polish  emigres  had  bought  tickets,  and  his 
pockets  remained  empty.  Three  months  later,  he  played  with 

CHOPIN  321 

equally  depressing  financial  results  at  a  fashionable  charity  con- 
cert, and  was  so  dejected  that  he  decided  to  move  to  America.  Un- 
fortunately for  the  muse  of  comic  history,  Chopin  never  had  a 
chance  to  add  another  by  no  means  needed  note  of  color  to  An- 
drew Jackson's  United  States.  Fortunately  for  him,  he  accidentally 
met  Prince  Valentin  Radziwill.,  who  was  aghast  at  the  idea  of 
Chopin  departing  for  such  savage  shores.  He  persuaded  him  to  try 
his  luck  at  Baron  Jacques  de  Rothschild's.  There,  amid  some  of  the 
best  names  in  the  Almanack  de  Gotha,  he  conquered  Parisian  society, 
and  came  away  with  a  prince,  a  princess,  a  duchess,  and  a  count  as 
his  sponsors.  As  a  result,  with  engagements  to  play,  and  with  plenty 
of  lessons  at  twenty  francs  a  head,  his  financial  problems  were 
solved  for  over  a  decade. 

Chopin  never  deplored  the  inroads  of  society  on  his  time:  he  had 
a  well-developed  frivolous  side,  adored  the  company  of  beautiful 
women  of  rank,  and  unfolded  all  his  petals  in  a  really  select 
gathering.  Once  he  had  entree,  he  gave  much  attention  to  the 
business  of  cutting  a  fine  figure  in  Parisian  high  society.  He  kept  his 
own  carriage,  was  something  of  a  clotheshorse,  and  in  many  re- 
spects was  quite  like  one  of  the  young  swells  of  the  Jockey  Club. 
His  social  vices  were  characteristic  of  the  highborn  Pole  domiciled 
in  Paris:  he  was  snobbish  to  the  point  of  stupidity,  and  often 
treated  those  he  considered  his  inferiors  with  brusque  discourtesy. 
Of  a  part  with  this  was  his  fanatical  contempt  for  Jews — unless 
they  happened  to  be  Rothschilds,  a  Mendelssohn,  or  a  Heine. 
He  used  the  epithets  "Jew95  and  "pig*5  interchangeably  for  any- 
one who  incurred,  even  unwittingly,  his  disfavor.  Ever  a  sensitive 
plant,  imbibing  his  impressions,  and  most  of  his  nonmusical  ideas, 
from  his  immediate  ambience,  Chopin  did  not  think  out  these 
absurd  attitudes,  but  accepted  them  as  unthinkingly  as  he  did  the 
fashion  of  wearing  yellow  gloves. 

The  Chopin  of  the  overheated  ballrooms  with  countless  count- 
esses moving  in  the  candlelight  was  the  composer  of  the  valses — 
less  than  a  score  spaced  over  almost  twenty  years.  There  are 
valses  in  all  moods — gay,  insouciant,  disdainful,  delce  far  nimte, 
somber,  languorous,  pensive — all  evoking  the  ballroom  and  the 
spirit  of  the  dance.  Only  rarely,  however,  are  they  truly  dance 
music,  and  never  are  they  valses  in  the  good,  forthright  Johann 
Strauss  tradition.  They  have  rhythm,  and  when  this  rhythm  is  not 

322  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

too  vagrant,  parts  of  them  could  be  used  in  a  ballroom.  As  it  is, 
several  of  them  have  been  orchestrated  for  ballet — witness  those  in 
that  appalling  choreographic  museum  called  Les  Sylphides.  It  takes 
a  ballet  dancer,  disciplined  to  cope  with  all  manner  of  musical 
surprise,  to  follow  the  subtle  retards  and  accelerations  of  Chopin's 
perplexing  conception  of  unchanging  three-four  time.  The  valses 
are  really  just  what  Chopin  intended  them  to  be — piano  pieces, 
salon  pieces  to  be  played  intimately.  They  are  all  charming,  many 
of  them  enjoy  world-wide  popularity,*  some  of  them  have  moments 
of  exquisite  tenderness  and  meditation.  Yet,  with  the  possible  ex- 
ception of  the  C  sharp  minor,  they  are  without  the  special  tang 
and  color  of  Chopin,  the  revolutionary  of  the  pianoforte.  The 
valses  are  Chopin's  trivia. 

The  truth  is  that  the  valses,  having  their  source  in  no  deep  emo- 
tions, but  bubbling  off  the  surface  of  Chopin's  life,  could  never 
rise  above  charm.  Yet,  he  could  make  other  dance  forms  the 
vehicles  of  eloquent  emotion.  Such  were  the  polonaise  and  the 
mazurka,  where  the  fact  that  they  were  Polish  dances  touched  off  a 
complex  of  personal  feelings — patriotism,  homesickness,  pride  of 
race,  a  realization  of  exile — that  make  them  spiritually  sincere, 
artistically  creative  as  the  valses  almost  never  are. 

The  polonaise,  which  in  Liszt's  deft  but  insensitive  hands  be- 
came an  omnibus  of  piano  effects,  in  Chopin's  was  a  magnificent 
catch  at  lofty  and  poetic  moods.  In  this  superb  dozen  of  epic 
dances — great  vigorous  dances  for  noble  men — it  is  hard  to  find 
the  Chopin  whom  John  Field  (himself  a  minor  poet  at  the  key- 
board) described  as  "a  sickroom  talent"  With  the  exception  of  the 
clangorous  "Afilitaire,"  the  polonaises  have  seldom  won  the  great 
popular  favor  they  deserve:  they  are  too  difficult  for  any  except  the 
strongest  and  most  agile  virtuoso;  they  are  entirely  beyond  the 
reach  of  the  amateur  who  can  manage  a  valse  or  a  prelude.  Yet, 
even  a  long-neglected  polonaise  can  be  dusted  off,  and  used  by  a 
great  pianist  to  bring  down  the  house.  In  capable  hands  they  are 
absolutely  sure-fire.  The  main  reason  for  this  is  that,  apart  from 
their  specific  musical  beauties,  they  are  amazingly  exciting.  Three 
of  them  tower  above  the  rest,  and  belong  definitely  to  the  greater 
Chopin.  These  big  works  require  such  a  wide  range  of  dynamics, 

*  In  one  case,  at  least,  unfortunately.  Of  the  so-called  "Minute5'  Valse,  in  D  flat, 
James  Huneker  said  that  "like  the  rich,  It  is  always  with  us." 

CHOPIN  323 

and  teem  with  so  many  fortisslmos  and  sforzandos,  that  it  is  im- 
possible to  imagine  their  own  composer,  with  his  feeble  attack, 
doing  them  justice.  Chopin  often  said  that  he  "heard"  certain  of 
his  compositions  only  when  Liszt  played  them  for  him,  and  these 
three  giants  must  have  been  among  them.  The  F  sharp  minor 
Polonaise  is  a  tortured,  stormy  introspection  divided  into  two  parts 
by  a  whispering  aside  in  mazurka  style — an  enigmatic  pause  that, 
in  addition  to  supplying  vivid  dramatic  contrast,  suggests  nostalgia 
and  bittersweet  musings.  The  A  flat  Polonaise  is  a  triumphant 
composition;  occasionally  called  the  "Heroic,"  it  almost  equals 
the  "Militaire"  in  popularity.  It  is  as  outward-turned  as  the  F 
sharp  minor  is  inward-searching.  It  represents  the  joy,  completely 
impersonal,  of  great  issues  happily  decided.  There  remains  the 
Polonaise-Fantaisie,  likewise  in  A  flat,  vast,  ambiguous,  and  less 
structurally  well  knit  than  most  of  Chopin's  piano  pieces.  After 
some  difficulty  in  getting  started — it  makes  three  false  starts  (a 
Lisztian  trick) — it  vaporizes  beautifully  for  several  pages,  which 
are  studded  with  quasi-Schumannesque  epigrams,  achieves  a 
satisfactory  climax,  collapses,  and  inconsequentially  sets  off  on 
another  tack  and  works  up  into  one  of  the  most  effective  climaxes 
in  all  of  Chopin. 

For  expressing  more  intimate  and  evanescent  moods  than  seem 
native  to  the  polonaise,  Chopin  turned  to  another  Polish  dance — 
the  mazurka.  He  wrote  fifty-six  mazurkas  of  amazing  variety,  but 
almost  all  intensely  Slavic  in  feeling.  Many  have  recourse  to  the 
most  exotic  harmonies  and  melodic  intervals.  The  way  they  break 
the  rules,  sometimes  to  produce  an  authentic  Slavic  effect,  some- 
times out  of  sheer  disdain,  infuriated  the  theorists  of  the  day.  Even 
the  much  freer  rules  of  modern  harmony  might  not  admit  some  of 
these  strange  progressions,  but  the  ear — music's  best  arbiter — 
allows  them  because  they  seem  to  arise  inevitably  out  of  the  whole 
design  and  context  of  the  music.  Lovely,  haunting,  eerily  seductive 
though  they  are,  the  mazurkas  have  never  been  concert  hits,  not 
because  audiences  would  not  like  them,  but  because  they  offer  few 
big  chances  to  heroic  virtuosos.  This  is  perhaps  just  as  well:  the 
mazurkas  would  lose  some  of  their  bloom  at  the  hands  of  keyboard 
giants  in  the  wide  spaces  of  the  concert  hall.  They  need,  far  more 
than  the  valses,  and  quite  as  much  as  the  preludes,  the  small  room, 
the  right  time,  the  personal  touch.  Among  the  fifty-six,  you 

324  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

are  bound  to  find  at  least  one  that  will  fit  your  mood  (unless 
you  long  to  overturn  a  dictator  or  improve  your  game  of  golf)  ,  and 
the  technical  difficulties  are  not  formidable  enough  to  keep  you 
from  expressing  yourself  adequately.  There  are,  as  Huneker  said, 
Chopin  mazurkas  that  are  "ironical,  sad,  sweet,  joyous,  morbid, 
sour,  sane  and  dreamy" — moocis  for  any  man. 

It  is  not  easy  to  picture  this  master  of  moods  as  a  piano  teacher, 
however  fashionable.  Yet,  from  1832  on,  much  of  his  everyday  life 
was  a  pedagogue's,  and  the  strange  thing  is  that  he  seems  to  have 
relished  teaching.  It  led  him  to  the  best  houses.  Oddly  enough, 
not  one  of  his  known  pupils  became  a  great  pianist,  though  there  is 
a  legend  that  Louis  Moreau  Gottschalk,  that  Creole  Don  Juan  of 
the  keyboard,  studied  with  Mm.  This  story  is  supported  by  the 
fact  that  Gottschalk  introduced  Chopin's  music  in  America.  The 
most  promising  pupil  Chopin  ever  had  was  a  child  prodigy  who 
died  at  the  age  of  fifteen,  and  of  whom  Liszt  said,  "When  he  starts 
playing,  I'll  shut  up  shop."  But  most  of  Chopin's  pupils  were 
dilettante  aristocrats  of  both  sexes,  female  predominating. 

It  was  left  for  Chopin  the  composer,  through  two  sets  of  twelve 
etudes,*  to  become,  after  Bach,  the  most  inspired  of  keyboard 
pedagogues.  Bach,  in  seeking  to  establish  the  perfect  relationships 
of  the  tempered  scales,  produced  forty-eight  preludes  and  fugues 
that,  besides  being  inherently  beautiful,  are  still  the  classic  touch- 
stone of  piano  pedagogy.  Chopin,  who  always  limbered  up  for  his 
own  concerts  by  playing  from  The  Well-Tempered  Clavichord,  made, 
in  the  etudes,  a  series  of  field  maps  of  the  territories  he  had  had  to 
explore  in  order  to  enlarge  the  range  of  piano  technique.  In  almost 
every  one  of  them  he  dealt  with  a  problem,  or  related  problems, 
incidental  to  the  new  kind  of  music  he  was  composing,  and  there  is 
plenty  of  internal  evidence,  despite  the  multifarious  programs 
that  have  been  suggested  for  various  etudes,  that  they  were  de- 
liberately designed  as  exercises  for  overcoming  specific  difficulties. 
The  study  in  thirds  (Opus  25,  No.  6)  and  the  tremendous  one  in 
octaves  (Opus  25,  No.  10)  reveal  their  teaching  purposes  at  a 
glance.  But  even  such  a  demoniac  outburst  as  the  "Revolutionary" 
(Opus  10,  No.  12)  is  easily  analyzed  as  "a  bravura  study  of  the 

*  For  the  three  supplementary  etudes,  published  in  1840  as  part  of  F6tis  and 
Moscheles*  Mlthode  des  metkodes pour  h piano >9  there  have  been  many  apologists,  though 
they  are  the  least  strong  of  Chopin's  studies. 

CHOPIN  325 

very  highest  order  for  the  left  hand."  In  a  few,  the  specific  problem 
is  not  so  easily  isolated,  but  it  is  always  there.  Yet  Edward  Dann- 
reuther  absent-mindedly  stated  that  Chopin's  etudes  "have  no 
didactic  purpose" :  he  seems  to  have  been  duped  by  their  musical 
quality  into  believing  that  they  could  not  have  had  a  practical 
inception.  But  that  is  the  miracle  of  the  etudes:  in  setting  forth  the 
technical  problems,  Chopin  invariably  created  music  that  could 
stand  on  its  own  merits.  The  best  of  the  etudes,  indeed,  are  among 
the  finest  compositions  for  the  piano.  It  has  been  truly  said  that  he 
who  can  play  the  Chopin  etudes  can  play  anything  in  modern 
piano  literature.  Nor  does  this  refer  merely  to  technique. 

When  Chopin  was  not  teaching  or  composing  or  attitudinizing 
gracefully  in  candlelit  salons,  he  was  competing  with  other  famous 
pianists  of  the  day.  Early  in  1833,  he  appeared  with  Liszt  on  a 
benefit  program  for  Harriet  Smithson,  the  mediocre  Irish  actress 
who  had  kindled  a  forest  fire  of  passion  in  Berlioz'  heart.  The 
next  year  he  played  at  a  concert  given  by  Berlioz  himself,  though 
he  once  said  maliciously  of  the  mad  Hector's  music  that  anyone 
was  fully  justified  in  breaking  off  with  the  man  who  wrote  it. 
Meanwhile,  other  pianists  were  bringing  certain  of  his  own  com- 
positions (precisely  those  that  are  more  or  less  forgotten  today) 
before  the  public,  not  only  in  Paris,  but  in  Germany.  Clara  Wieck 
and  Liszt  were  among  his  early  interpreters. 

Little  more  than  two  years  after  he  was  prepared  to  stake  every- 
thing on  a  melodramatic  expedition  to  America,  Chopin  had  be- 
come one  of  the  most  famous  men  in  Paris.  His  compositions  were 
eagerly  sought  after  by  publishers,  and  yet  it  is  curious  that  one  of 
his  most  popular  pieces,  the  Fantaisie-Impromptu,  though  com- 
posed at  this  time,  was  not  published  until  six  years  after  his  death. 
As  most  of  his  posthumous  compositions  were  those  he  considered 
unworthy  of  publication,  can  it  be  that  he  had  small  use  for  this 
favorite?  The  sloppy  cantabile  (which,  almost  unchanged,  was  to 
become  the  epidemic  Tm  Always  Chasing  Rainbows)  lends  color  to 
this  supposition,  though  the  sheer  rhythmical  inspiration  of  the 
allegro  agitato  and  presto  more  than  compensates  for  it.  The  whole 
piece  has  a  brilliant  improvisational  quality  that  makes  it  a  true 
impromptu:  the  word  "Fantaisie"  was  a  meddlesome  afterthought 
by  the  publisher. 

In  May,  1834,  with  money  secured  hastily  by  selling  a  valse  be- 


hind  his  regular  publisher's  back,  Chopin  went  with  Hiller  to  the 
Lower  Rhine  Festival  at  Aix-la-Chapelle.  Mendelssohn  was  there 
in  high  spirits,  and  after  the  festival  was  over  bore  them  off  to 
Diisseldorf.  He  was  enthusiastic  if  ambiguous  about  Chopin's 
playing:  "As  a  pianoforte  player  he  is  now  one  of  the  very  first — 
quite  a  second  Paganini.  ..."  But  the  classicist  in  Mendelssohn 
added  that  Chopin  often  lost  sight  "of  time  and  calmness  and  real 
musical  feeling":  in  those  days  the  Pole's  "leaning  about  within 
the  measure" — his  notorious  rubato — was  a  revolutionary  novelty 
not  yet  dulled  by  volumes  of  discussion.  Evidently  Mendelssohn 
never  understood  its  real  function.*  And,  indeed,  he  was  of  two 
minds  about  Chopin  the  composer,  finding  him  "discordant" 
and  too  mannered,  though  admitting  his  soulfulness — a  dubious 
compliment  that  Chopin  returned  by  damning  Mendelssohn's 
works  in  Mo.  Nor  was  Chopin  more  appreciative  of  Schumann, 
whom  he  met  during  his  last  visits  to  Germany  in  1835  and  1836. 
In  view  of  Schumann's  continuing  service  to  Chopin's  reputation, 
the  unhappy  fellow  might  have  hoped  for  something  better  at  his 
hands  than  the  cold  remark  that  "Carnaval  is  hot  music  at  all." 

The  year  1835  was  one  of  the  stormiest  in  Chopin's  life.  In  the 
first  place,  he  became  deeply  depressed  by  the  public's  tepid  reac- 
tion to  his  playing — he  foolishly  matched  his  salon  touch  against 
Liszt's  thunderous  pianism  in  large  halls,  and  naturally  cut  a  poor 
figure.  In  early  April,  the  two  of  them  played  at  a  charity  concert, 
and  the  applause  for  Chopin  was  almost  as  delicate  as  Ms  playing. 
He  concluded  gloomily  that  he  had  better  stick  to  composing,  and 
said  unhappily  to  Liszt:  "I  am  not  fitted  to  give  concerts.  The 
crowd  intimidates  me;  I  feel  asphyxiated  by  its  breath,  paralyzed 
by  its  curious  look,  dumb  before  the  strange  faces;  but  you,  you 
are  destined  for  the  crowd,  because  when  you  do  not  captivate 
your  public,  you  have  the  wherewithal  to  overpower  it."  A  spite- 
ful remark.  Was  he  implying  that  what  Liszt  could  not  do  legiti- 
mately, he  accomplished  with  sex  appeal  and  piano-pounding? 
After  this,  Chopin  rarely  played  in  public.  His  reputation  as  a  key- 
board sorcerer  depends  almost  exclusively  on  the  reports  of  friends 
and  fellow  musicians  who  heard  him  play  his  own  compositions  at 
private  musicales. 

*  It  remained  for  Berlioz,  the  unflinchiag  breaker  of  rules,  to  castigate  Chopin 
primly  for  his  rubato,  saying:  "Chopin  could  not  play  in  strict  time." 

CHOPIN  327 

The  figure  Chopin  cut  at  these  aristocratic  gatherings  healed 
whatever  wounds  his  vanity  suffered  at  the  hands  of  the  larger 
public.  He  was  a  male  coquette — there  are  abundant  traces  of 
coquetry  in  his  lighter  pieces — and  many  of  his  usually  inconclu- 
sive romances  began  as  he  poured  out  his  ardent  Slavic  soul  at  the 
keyboard  and  swept  his  susceptible  audience  with  his  lustrous 
eyes.  There  was  something  about  this  slight,  poetic-looking  ex- 
quisite that  would  have  made  conquests  easy  for  him  if  he  had  had 
more  sheer  male  drive.  But  so  shrinking  was  he  that  the  woman 
had  to  be  the  aggressor,  and  there  is  good  reason  for  believing  that 
he  did  not  have  his  first  sexual  experience  until  1834  or  1835,  when 
he  was  seduced  by  a  misunderstood  wife,  the  talented  and  glam- 
orous Countess  Delphine  Potocka.  There  was  real  affection  be- 
tween them,  but  the  liaison  was  cut  short  when  her  jealous  hus- 
band, by  stopping  her  allowance,  forced  her  to  return  to  Warsaw. 

Apparently  while  suffering  from  this  deprivation,  Chopin  went 
to  Carlsbad  to  visit  his  parents.  After  two  happy  months,  not 
realizing  that  they  would  never  meet  again,  he  left  them  and  went 
on  to  Dresden  to  see  the  Wodziiiski, family,  friends  of  his  child- 
hood. There,  or  the  following  year  atTMarienbada  he  seems  to  have 
offered  marriage  to  the  youthful  Countess  Marja  Wodzinska, 
though  evidently  without  being  passionately  in  love  with  her. 
The  details  of  the  affair,  about  which  so  many  doleful  conjectural 
pages  have  been  printed,  remain  extremely  obscure.  Certain  it  is 
that  Count  Wodziiiski  objected  to  a  musician  son-in-law,  but  just 
as  certainly  Chopin  for  two  years  looked  forward  to  marrying 
Marja.  He  was  longing  for  a  wife  and  home — the  specific  Marja 
was  a  secondary  consideration.  In  1837,  while  he  still  considered 
himself  plighted  to  her,  she  made  it  clear,  by  the  cold  tone  of  her 
letters,  that  marriage  was  out  of  the  question. 

If  these  abortive  relationships,  these  yearnings  for  romance, 
these  searchings  for  lasting  love,  have  a  musical  gloss,  it  is  pre- 
eminently in  the  nocturnes*  Unlike  the  mazurka  or  polonaise,  the 
nocturne  is  a  fluid  mood  piece,  not  a  distinct  musical  form.  What 
gives  Chopin's  nocturnes  their  family  resemblance  is  precisely 
their  yearning,  searching,  often  darkling  mood.  In  the  hand"  of 
Haydn  and  Mozart,  a  notturno  had  been  an  orchestral  serenade. 
John  Field,  the  Irish  virtuoso  who  was  St.  Petersburg's  most  fash- 
ionable piano  teacher  in  the  early  nineteenth  century,  published 

328  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

the  first  piano  pieces  to  be  called  nocturnes,  by  which  he  meant 
evocations  of  night  moods,  and  Chopin,  who  knew  Field,  ap- 
propriated the  idea.  Field,  to  judge  by  his  sane,  pellucid  nocturnes, 
felt  the  same  by  night  as  by  day.  Not  so  Chopin,  whose  moods 
deepened  as  the  shades  of  night  fell.  His  nocturnes  are  the  music 
of  exacerbated  nerves.  Their  sickly  phosphorescence  illumines  the 
jungle  places,  the  tropical  miasmas  of  his  psyche.  They  express  not 
only  Chopin  the  thwarted  lover,  but  Chopin  the  neurotic,  the 
ambivalent,  the  decadent.  The  most  flagrant  ones  would  be  ap- 
propriately heard  in  a  hothouse.  Almost  all  of  them  are  harmoni- 
cally lush — "fruity,"  Huneker  called  one  of  them.  At  least  two  are 
Chopin  in  the  grand  manner — the  C  sharp  minor  (Opus  27,  No.  i) 
acid  the  C  minor,  the  latter  one  of  his  finest  inspirations,  if  the  least 
nocturnelike,  with  its  sonorous  Mendelssohn-o^m-Wagner  tri- 
umphal march  and  the  magical  doppio  movimmto  with  its  strangely 
Brahmsian  motion.  In  some  respects,  the  nocturnes,  which  so  often 
exaggerate  his  idiosyncrasies  to  the  point  of  caricature,  are  the 
most  Chopinesque  of  all  his  works.  They  have  ended  by  doing  a 
disservice  to  his  reputation,  for  it  is  upon  oversentimentaHzed 
interpretations  of  them  by  oversentimental  pianists  that  the  con- 
ception of  Chopin  as  "the  Polish  tuberose"  chiefly  rests. 

An  excellent  corrective  for  this  one-sided  conception  of  Chopin 
is  furnished  by  the  four  scherzos,  the  most  human  and  variable  of 
which — that  in  B  flat  minor — was  published  the  very  year  his  hope 
of  settling  down  with  the  Wodzinska  was  dashed.  The  scherzos  are 
stalwarts,  and  the  first  three  are  works  of  impassioned  vigor.  Like 
the  three  giant  polonaises,  they  demand  great  strength,  a  bravura 
technique,  and  an  understanding  of  musical  Byronics.  They  have 
little  if  any  likeness  to  earlier  scherzos,  which  developed  out  of  the 
minuet,  and  which,  in  the  hands  of  Beethoven,  became  pieces  of 
titanic  playfulness.  They  are  almost  equally  distant  from  Men- 
delssohn's gossamer  adaptation  of  the  classical  scherzo.  Indeed, 
it  is  difficult  to  understand  why  Chopin  called  these  four  moody 
pieces  scherzos  at  all.  The  first  one,  for  example,  might  just  as 
well  be  called  War  and  Peace.  But  instead  of  criticizing  his  arbi- 
trary naming,  we  ought  rather  to  enjoy  them  as  prime  examples  of 
musical  energy  at  high  speed  (they  are  all  marked  presto),  and 
be  thankful  that  their  creator  did  not  shackle  them  together  witibi 

CHOPIN  329 

unnatural  bonds,  and  call  the  whole  a  sonata — a  thing  he  was 
quite  capable  of  doing. 

In  composition  Chopin  could  find  release  for  ordinary  emo- 
tional pressures,  but  in  the  case  of  Marja  Wodzinska  he  could  not 
thus  exorcise  the  specter  of  his  shattered  hopes.  His  health  suffered, 
and  he  sank  into  ominous  lethargy.  When  he  did  not  rally,  two  of 
his  friends  coaxed  him  into  going  with  them  to  London.  They  were 
gone  less  than  a  fortnight — but  long  enough,  it  has  been  said,  for 
the  combination  of  English  weather  and  his  lowered  vitality  to 
impair  Chopin's  congenitally  weak  lungs.  He  returned  home 
suffering  in  body  and  mind,  and  might  well  have  surrendered 
himself  completely  to  despair  and  disease  if  the  entire  course  of  his 
life  had  not  been  changed  by  one  of  the  most  remarkable  women 
of  the  nineteenth  century — George  Sand.  They  had  met  in  the 
winter  of  1836  at  the  home  of  Liszt's  mistress,  the  Countess 
d'Agoult,  and  were  on  friendly  terms  even  before  his  ill-advised 
English  journey.  Almost  immediately  after  his  return,  they  were 
seen  everywhere  together.  By  the  summer  of  1838,  they  were  so 
intimate  that  they  spent  their  vacation  together  at  Nohant,  her 
chateau  in  the  Loire  country.  Thus  began  the  most  publicized 
love  affair  in  musical  history. 

In  the  game  of  love,  the  febrile  Frederic  was  no  match  for  this 
Semiramis  of  letters.  Mme  Sand  came  of  a  line  of  great  lovers: 
Augustus  the  Strong  of  Saxony  was  her  paternal  great-great- 
grandfather. Her  mother's  father  sold  turtledoves  in  the  streets  of 
Paris.  She  herself  was  illegitimate — by  a  month.  Although  site 
married  a  baron  and  bore  him  two  children,  her  present  fame  rests 
largely  on  her  affairs  with  a  singular  cavalcade  of  distinguished 
men,  which  in  no  way  interfered  with  her  frightening  productivity 
as  a  writer.  She  was  at  least  as  famous  in  her  day  as  George  Eliot, 
but  whereas  the  Englishwoman  had  to  content  herself  with  the 
author  of  an  indifferent  book  on  Aristotle,  Sand  tried  and  dis- 
carded, besides  a  few  anonymities,  Merimee,  De  Musset,  and 
Chopin.  Among  those  who  literally  worshiped  her  not  only  as  a 
priestess  of  letters  but  also  as  a  humanitarian,  feminist,  and  nature 
cultist  were  such  diverse  personages  as  Heine,  Balzac,  Sainte- 
Beuve,  Flaubert,  Arnold,  George  Eliot,  and  Elizabeth  Barrett 
Browning — who  knelt  to  Mss  her  hand  when  they  were  introduced. 
Six  years  Chopin's  senior,  she  was,  at  the  time  of  their  meeting,  at 

330  MEN    OF    MUSIC 

the  height  of  her  fame,  a  woman  of  wide  sympathies,  powerfully 
male  in  intelligence,  but  devouringly  maternal  in  her  attitude  to- 
ward her  lovers. 

At  first  Chopin  had  found  Mme  Sand  repellent,  but  before  he 
knew  precisely  what  was  happening  to  him,  her  enveloping  sym- 
pathy had  lapped  him  in  the  mother  love  he  yearned  for.  He  be- 
came enslaved.  Nothing  else  explains  a  man  so  prim  about  moral 
appearances  (he  broke  off  friendly  relations  with  Liszt  because  he 
had  used  Chopin's  rooms  for  an  assignation)  going  off  to  spend  the 
summer  with  this  dumpy  sibyl,  for  it  was  as  much  as  a  young  man*s 
reputation  was  worth  to  be  seen  in  her  company  in  those  days.  He 
then  threw  discretion  farther  to  the  winds,  and  spent  a  wet,  miser- 
able winter  with  her  on  the  island  of  Majorca.  Chopin  was  des- 
perately ill  during  this  nightmarish  honeymoon:  he  and  Mme 
Sand  and  her  children  were  objects  of  vengeful  suspicion  by  the 
superstitious  natives  (primarily  because  they  did  not  go  to  church), 
and  were  starved  into  seeking  refuge  at  an  abandoned  monastery, 
where  they  put  up  for  several  wretched  months.  His  ill-heated, 
damp  cell  and  the  vile  food  again  wrecked  his  health,  and  when 
finally  they  made  their  escape  from  the  island,  Chopin,  suffering 
constantly  from  hemorrhages,  was  carried  aboard  the  stinking 
freighter  in  an  advanced  sta